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acta ethologica

, 11:81 | Cite as

Long-term social structure of long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) in the Strait of Gibraltar

  • R. de StephanisEmail author
  • P. Verborgh
  • S. Pérez
  • R. Esteban
  • L. Minvielle-Sebastia
  • C. Guinet
Original Paper

Abstract

The Strait of Gibraltar is inhabited by around 216 pilot whales, which are present all year round, and nothing is known about their social structure. The aim of this study is to analyse the inter-individual association patterns within this pilot whales community to (1) provide an insight on their long-term social system and (2) to assess the relationship between sexes within this social system. Between 1999 and 2006, 23,004 km was sampled in the Strait of Gibraltar, and 4,887 images of dorsal fins of pilot whales were taken from 226 groups. The sex of 56 of the individuals could be determined genetically. The strength of the behavioural relationships between dyads of individuals was calculated, and the temporal aspects of the social structure were evaluated, showing in a non-random social structure made by constant companions. The preferred associations between individuals consisted in associations of males–females. Eight long-term units could be found with different degrees of association rates. Consequently, we propose that, in the Strait, the pilot whales exhibit a hierarchical social system composed of a population encompassing several clans of pilot whales each containing several pods. Pods will then be formed by several line units, similar to killer whale matrilineal units.

Keywords

Pilot whales Social structure Strait of Gibraltar Cetacean 

Notes

Acknowledgements

This project has been financed and subsidised by the General Direction for Biodiversity of the Spanish Ministry of Environment, the Autonomous City of Ceuta (Spain), the Foundation Loro Parque, the Foundation Biodiversidad and the Nature Life Project LIFE02NAT/E/8610 “Conservation of cetaceans and turtles in Murcia and Andalusia” coordinated by the Sociedad Española de Cetáceos. The genetic analysis was supported by grants from the CNRS, the Ministère de la Recherche Scientifique and La Fondation pour la Recherche Médicale/Fondation BNP-Paribas (to L.M.-S.). This work would not have been possible without the help of N. Seller Fernandez, J. Salazar Sierra, Z. Munilla, Y. Yaget, J. de la Fuente and D. Alarcon from CIRCE, and all the Whale watching platforms from the Strait of Gibraltar, WW España, Turmares SL, Aventura Marina and Firmm. This research was conducted using software Logger 2000 developed by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to promote benign and non-invasive research. Thanks are due also to A. Foote for the comments and the language review. Thanks are also due to the three reviewers for their valuable comments to the manuscript. The biopsy sampling complied with the current laws of Spain and was made under the authorisation of the Spanish Ministry of Environment.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag and ISPA 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. de Stephanis
    • 1
    Email author
  • P. Verborgh
    • 1
    • 2
  • S. Pérez
    • 1
  • R. Esteban
    • 1
  • L. Minvielle-Sebastia
    • 3
  • C. Guinet
    • 2
  1. 1.CIRCE, Conservation, Information and Research on CetaceansCadizSpain
  2. 2.Centre d’Études Biologiques de ChizéCNRS UPR 1934Villiers en BoisFrance
  3. 3.Institut de Biochimie et Génétique Cellulaires CNRSBordeaux cedexFrance

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