Behavioural Ecology

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The field study of behaviour, coupled with appropriate statistical analyses, underlies much of the research undertaken by MUCRU members. Research into cetacean behavioural ecology has three broad applications:

  1. documenting the behavioural responses of cetaceans to human activities;
  2. linking individual behavioural impacts to population-level effects; and
  3. using behavioural information to inform environmental decision-making.

To study free-ranging cetaceans, researchers develop methodologies for identifying and quantifying behavioural events (e.g. dive types, social behaviours) and activities (e.g. “foraging” or “resting”) based on observations of individuals and groups while they are at the surface. Emerging technologies such as DTAGs (Digital-tags) allow researchers to collect behavioural and environmental data while animals are underwater and out of sight.

For many species, researchers are also able to recognise individual cetaceans through distinctive markings on the animal’s dorsal fin or tail flukes, a technique known as photo-identification. The rapid evolution of digital photography over the last decade means that researchers can readily capture high-resolution images of fin and fluke markings, as well as evidence of epidermal disease or previous injuries such as skin lesions and shark-bite scars.

Researchers use statistical analyses and GIS techniques to quantify behavioural parameters for individual cetaceans (e.g. ranging and association patterns, activity budgets, habitat selection) and for populations (e.g. estimates of group size, measures of social structure, habitat use). The development of statistical approaches for behavioural analyses is an area of active investigation within MUCRU.

Relevant MUCRU projects include:

Coastal and Estuarine Dolphin Project (Perth)
Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin Project
South West Marine Research Program
Snubfin and Humpback Dolphins in the Kimberley region, Western Australia
Humpback whale Great Barrier Reef Breeding Ground Project
Humpback whale Ship Strike Risk Project

Examples of relevant MUCRU publications:

Senigaglia, V., Christiansen, F., Bejder, L., Gendron, D., Lundquist, D., Noren, D.P., Schaffar, A., Smith, J.C., Williams, R., Martinez, E., Stockin, K. and Lusseau, D. 2016. Meta-analyses of whalewatching impact studies. Comparisons of cetacean responses to disturbance. Marine Ecology Progress Series 542: 251-263. doi: 10.3354/meps11497

Rankin, R.W., Mann, J., Singh, L., Patterson, E. , Krzyszczyk, E., and Bejder, L. 2016. The role of weighted and topological network information to understand animal social networks: a null-model approach. Animal Behavior 113: 215-228. doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2015.12.015

Jaiteh, V.F., Allen, S.J., Meeuwig JJ and Loneragan, N. 2013. Subsurface behavior of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) interacting with fish trawl nets in north-western Australia: Implications for bycatch mitigation. Marine Mammal Science 29: E266-E281. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2012.00620.x

Chabanne, D., Finn, H., Salgado-Kent, C. and Bejder, L. 2012. Identification of a resident community of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops spp.) in the Swan-Canning Estuary, Western Australian, using behavioural information. Pacific Conservation Biology 18: 247-262. doi: 10.1071/PC120247

Donaldson, R., Finn, H., Bejder, L., Lusseau, D. and Calver, M. 2012. The social side of human-wildlife interaction: wildlife can learn harmful behaviours from each other. Animal Conservation 15: 427-435. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-1795.2012.00548.x

Tyne, J.A., Loneragan, N.R., Kopps, A.M., Allen, S.J., Krützen, M., and Bejder, L. 2012. Ecological characteristics contribute to sponge distribution and tool use in bottlenose dolphins Tursiops sp. Marine Ecology Progress Series 444: 143-153. doi: 10.3354/meps09410

Allen, S.J., Bejder, L. and Krützen, M. 2011. Why do Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) carry conch shells (Turbinella sp.) in Shark Bay, Western Australia? Marine Mammal Science 27: 449-454. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2010.00409.x

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