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Social Ecology and Group Cohesion in Pilot Whales and Their Responses to Playback of Anthropogenic and Natural Sounds

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Technical Report

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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Woods Hole United States

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This project investigates the social ecology and cohesion of long-finned pilot whales as part of a broad multi-investigator research program that seeks to understand how cetaceans are affected by mid-frequency sonar and other sources of anthropogenic noise. The study of how noise affects large delphinids such as pilot whales is important since these species have different social systems and seem to respond differently to anthropogenic noise sources such as sonar Cur et al., 2012 compared to beaked whales DeRuiter et al., 2013 Tyack et al., 2011. However, the baseline behavior of pelagic delphinids is much less well understood compared to beaked whales, making both design and interpretation of controlled exposure experiments difficult Miller et al., 2012. For gregarious species relying on social strategies to defend against potential predators or competitors, the size, composition and cohesion of the natal group as well as the dive activity of group members likely plays an important role in shaping the decision processes of individuals and to determine the degree of response to a potential threat. Our goal here is to study the social dynamics and effects of noise on group-living delphinids. We aim to gather data to design, conduct and interpret controlled exposure experiments to social delphinids such as pilot whales, with the ultimate goal of understanding responses to naval sonar and improving Navy environmental analyses.

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