The Whales

Our August 2013 expedition is focused on long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas).  There are about 100 resident pilot whales at our field site in the Strait of Gibraltar.  These deep-diving toothed whales routinely hold their breath for 15-20 minutes while diving to depths of a thousand meters to feed on squid and small fish. Like other toothed whales, these animals echolocate, emitting highly directional sounds and listening for reflected echoes to locate obstacles and potential prey. 

Long-finned pilot whales are also very social animals. They are normally found in small groups of 4-10 animals, with multiple groups moving within the same general area in what is often called a pod. Studies of North-Atlantic pilot whales suggest that such groups are stable over a long time period, likely with a similar matrilineal group structure to fish-eating killer whales. Certainly, groups of animals residing in the Strait of Gibraltar have been seen to associate together consistently over the last decade of research. They are highly vocal animals that use sound to communicate with each other in the open ocean, but we know very little about what kinds of information they are interested in transmitting to each other.

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