Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 64, Issue 10, pp 1563–1576 | Cite as

Age-related multi-year associations in female humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)

  • Christian RampEmail author
  • Wilhelm Hagen
  • Per Palsbøll
  • Martine Bérubé
  • Richard Sears
Original Paper


Analyses of social structures in baleen whales are rare, and so far, they are thought to consist of mostly short and unstable associations. We investigated the association patterns of individual humpback whales from a summer feeding aggregation in the Gulf of St. Lawrence from 1997 to 2005. Photo-identified animals were sexed using genetic methods and were grouped into five categories: juvenile males/females, mature males and lactating/non-lactating females. We calculated half-weight association indices within and between the groups and found that 45% of the observation showed single animals and another 45% small groups (two to three) consisting mainly of mature animals besides lactating females. Using permutation tests, we found evidence for long-term associations between mature males and non-lactating females as well as among non-lactating females. Standardised lagged association rates revealed that these male–female groups disassociated quickly over about 2 weeks, whereas associations increased again towards the beginning of the breeding season. Non-lactating females of similar age engaged in multi-seasonal stable pairs for up to six consecutive feeding seasons; no mature male–female association was observed in consecutive years. The females with the most stable and long-term associations also had the highest reproductive output. While the risk of predation could not explain these long-term bonds, feeding cooperation seemed the most plausible explanation for group forming behaviour during the summer months.


Humpback whales Association indices Temporal association pattern Multi-seasonal associations Female–female bonds 



We would like to thank the team of the Mingan Island Cetacean Study for the data collection, Hal Whitehead for his extensive help with the analysis and SOCPROG details and Thomas Doniol-Valcroze, Brian Kot, Julien Delarue, Nathalie Jaquet, Jooke Robbins, Marianne Marcoux, Petra Reimann and three anonymous reviewers for comments on the draft. An earlier version of this article was submitted in partial fulfilment of a doctoral thesis at the University of Bremen. The study complies with the laws of Canada. All fieldwork was conducted under permits of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada.

Supplementary material

265_2010_970_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (17 kb)
ESM 1 Description of models fitted to the SLAR of the different data sets. Time lag (τ) (PDF 17 kb)
265_2010_970_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (18 kb)
ESM 2 Annual sample size of identified humpback whales in the research area over the study period, divided by sex. Females pooled in the cohort groups were sighted as non-lactating mature females in the study period (1997–2005) (PDF 18 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Ramp
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Wilhelm Hagen
    • 2
  • Per Palsbøll
    • 3
  • Martine Bérubé
    • 3
  • Richard Sears
    • 1
  1. 1.Mingan Island Cetacean StudySt. LambertCanada
  2. 2.Marine Zoologie (FB2)Universität Bremen (NW2)BremenGermany
  3. 3.Department of Genetics, Microbiology and ToxicologyStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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