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Population Parameters of Blainvilles and Cuviers Beaked Whales

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Technical Report

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University of La Laguna (ULL) Tenerife, Canary Islands Spain

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Beaked whales are especially sensitive to some acoustic sources, which can lead to mass strandings. The lack of knowledge about the population dynamics and reproductive parameters of these animals impedes assessing the population effects of stranding mortalities. This project continues a long-term photo-ID study started in the Canary Islands in 2003 in order to obtain a sufficient sample size for demographic modeling. This information augments the sparse knowledge of beaked whale population biology, contributing to our understanding of the biological processes influencing population resilience or vulnerability to human impacts. ONR funding has been leveraged by additional Spanish funding to continue field effort and initiate genetic sampling with biopsies in 2015, until February 2016. This is the first step towards gathering a dataset to study genetic diversity and population structure of Cuviers and Blainvilles beaked whales in the archipelago. Analyzing PhotoID and genetic data in tandem is a powerful method for close-kin studies of paternityrelatedness and dispersal. Genetic diversity, life history traits, social structure and social cohesion influence the persistence and resilience of cetacean populations. Long-term monitoring of beaked whale populations in El Hierro, a nearly pristine habitat far from areas of sonar testing or marine industry, enables valuable studies of demographic trends and life history dictated mainly by natural parameters. El Hierro is in process of being declared the first fully marine Spanish National Park due to its high natural values and good level of conservation. Beaked whale monitoring will be undertaken by the Park once it starts functioning.

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