Expedition Overview

A long-finned pilot whale looks back towards the Elsa
In August 2013 a Joint WHOI/CIRCE (Conservation, Information and Research on Cetaceans) research team will spend four weeks tagging long-finned pilot whales in the Strait of Gibraltar.  Our goal is to study:
  •          Social dynamics and spatial cohesion of individuals within groups
  •          How human-generated sound and disturbance affect behavior
  •          Individual and group-level differences in foraging strategies
Located where the cold, nutrient-rich Atlantic Ocean meets the warmer Mediterranean, the Strait of Gibraltar creates an ideal feeding ground for whales and many other marine animals. The strait is also home to a year-round, resident population of about one hundred long-finned pilot whales that are well-known and easily identified. These highly social marine mammals live in small groups of four to ten individuals, and regularly leave the surface to find food at depths of up to 1,000 meters (3,000 feet).

To study such deep-diving animals, we will deploy acoustic- and movement-recording DTAGs on several individuals in a group at the same time. These non-invasive suction-cup tags offer a unique view into the lives of marine mammals because of their ability to record detailed sound and 3D movement data from each tagged whale for periods of up to 24 hours.

Simultaneously tagging multiple animals within the same social group provides an unprecedented glimpse into the social lives of these whales. Tags placed on closely associated animals allow us to identify the communication signals of individuals and to measure the responses of other tagged group members. This gives us incredibly detailed information to study how individuals within a group coordinate activities and maintain social cohesion across long time periods and deep dives. It will also let us investigate whether and how individuals engage the rest of the social group when responding to a potential threat.

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