March 1, 2024

Surprising behavior in one of the least studied mammals in the world

This article has been reviewed in accordance with Science X’s editorial process and policies. The editors have highlighted the following attributes, ensuring the credibility of the content:

checked

peer-reviewed publication

trusted source

review


A Baird’s beaked whale in the Commander Islands. Two teeth can be seen on the lower flask. The body is covered in scars from fights with other beaked whales. Credit: Olga Filatova, University of Southern Denmark.

× to close


A Baird’s beaked whale in the Commander Islands. Two teeth can be seen on the lower flask. The body is covered in scars from fights with other beaked whales. Credit: Olga Filatova, University of Southern Denmark.

Some animals live in such remote and inaccessible regions of the globe that it is almost impossible to study them in their natural habitats. Beaked whales, of which 24 species have been found so far, are among them: they live far from land and in deep ocean waters, where they look for food at depths of 500 meters or more.

The record holder for the deepest dive by a mammal is the Cuvier’s beaked whale, which in 2014 was measured to dive at least 2,992 meters. A beaked whale also holds the mammal record for the longest dive; 222 minutes.

Now the world gains a surprising new insight into the world of distant beaked whales through a scientific study of a population of Baird’s beaked whales. The population was found unexpectedly close to shore and in shallower waters than previously observed.

The study is led by whale biologists Olga Filatova and Ivan Fedutin from the University of Southern Denmark/Fjord&Bælt and was published in the journal Animal behavior.

Filatova and Fedutin have many years of studying whales in the north Pacific, and it was during an expedition to the Commander Islands in 2008 that they first spotted a pod of Baird’s beaked whales close to shore.

“We were there to look for killer whales and humpback whales, so we just noticed that we had seen a pod of Baird’s beaked whales and didn’t do much about it. But we also saw them over the next few years, and after five years, we suspected it was from a stable community that frequently visited the same area.”

“We saw them every year until 2020, when COVID-19 prevented us from returning to the Commander Islands,” explains Olga Filatova, whale expert and postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biology and the SDU Climate Cluster, University of Southern Denmark. .


Bairds’ beaked whale, Commander Islands. Credit: Olga Filatova, University of Southern Denmark

× to close


Bairds’ beaked whale, Commander Islands. Credit: Olga Filatova, University of Southern Denmark

The studied population of Baird’s beaked whales came close to the coast – within a radius of four kilometers from land, and were observed in shallow waters, less than 300 meters.

“It is not characteristic of this species,” says Olga Filatova, who also points out that the population has probably adapted to this specific habitat and therefore deviates from the established perception that all beaked whales roam far out to sea and in deep waters.

“This means that you cannot expect all individuals of a specific species to behave in the same way. This makes it difficult to plan for species protection – in this case, for example, you cannot plan based on the assumption that whales- Bills live only in distant places, on the seabed. We have shown that they can also live in shallow and coastal waters. There may be other different habitats that we are not yet aware of”, says Olga Filatova.

There are many examples of individuals of the same whale species that do not behave the same way. In the world of whales, it is common to find groups of the same species living in different locations, eating different prey, communicating differently and not liking to mix with similar species from other groups.

Some groups of killer whales hunt only marine mammals such as seals and porpoises, others only herring. Some humpback whales migrate between the tropics and the Arctic; others are residents of certain areas. Some groups of sperm whales develop their own dialects for internal communication and do not like communicating with others outside the group.

According to Olga Filatova, social learning is at play when groups develop preferences for, for example, habitats and prey.

There are many forms of social learning in the animal world. Imitation is the most complex form; the animal sees what others do and understands the motivation and reasoning behind it. Then there is “local enhancement,” where an animal sees another animal going to a specific place, follows it, and learns that that place has value. This has been observed in many animals, including fish.


Baird’s beaked whales in the Commander Islands. Credit: Olga Filatova, University of Southern Denmark

× to close


Baird’s beaked whales in the Commander Islands. Credit: Olga Filatova, University of Southern Denmark

Olga Filatova believes that the Baird’s beaked whale population in the Commander Islands learns through “local improvement”. They see that some pairs go to the shallow waters near the coast, follow them and discover that it is a good place, probably because there are a lot of fish.

“It becomes a cultural tradition and this is the first time that a cultural tradition has been observed among beaked whales,” she says.

Other examples of cultural traditions in whales include when they develop specific hunting traditions: some slap their tails to stun fish, some generate waves to knock seals off ice floes, and some chase fish to shore.

Researchers observed a total of 186 individuals of the Baird’s beaked whale species in the Commander Islands from 2008 to 2019. 107 were observed only once and therefore assessed as transient whales. 79 individuals were sighted more than a year ago and therefore assessed as residents.

61 of the transient whales were seen interacting with residents, and seven of them were seen in shallow waters.

“Transients are not as familiar with local conditions as residents and therefore tend to forage at depths normal for their species. But we actually observed some transients in the shallow area. social contact with residents. It must be through this contact that they learned about shallow waters and their advantages”, says Olga Filatova.

It’s unclear how many Baird’s beaked whales there are in the world.

More information:
OA Filatova et al, Unusual use of shallow habitats may be evidence of a cultural tradition in Baird’s beaked whales, Animal behavior (2024). DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2023.12.021

Diary information:
Animal behavior

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *