Shannon Gowans


The objectives of my thesis are to describe the social organization and to determine the population structure of Northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus) in the Gully, a prominent submarine canyon on the Scotian Shelf . Describing patterns of association between different individuals and types of individuals (adult females, adult males and calves) will lead to a better understanding the social organization of the species. I also plan to investigate the degree to which bottlenose whales found in the Gully constitute an isolated population, separate from individuals in other parts of the Atlantic and to examine whether the Gully population is a viable population.

To investigate these questions I will use photographic identification of markings on the dorsal fins of individual whales. Since 1988 Dalhousie researchers have been collecting a photographic catalogue of these markings. Using this catalogue it is possible to calculate association rates between different individuals and then to generalize about patterns of associations between types of individuals. It is also possible to use mark-recapture techniques to estimate the size of the population, calculate immigration and emigration rates and investigate the viability of the population.

It has been possible use the population estimate (only 230 individuals) to convince COSEWIC (the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) to assign this population vulnerable status.

Information from this project will be important to ensure that the proposed development of natural gas fields on the Scotian Shelf will not negatively impact on this species. Additionally, this study (which includes the work of other Dalhousie researchers) represents the only long-term study ever conducted on living beaked whales.

Gowans, S, and L. Rendell. 1999. Head-butting in northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus): a possible function for big heads? Marine Mammal Science 15: 1342-1350.
Gowans, S., M.L. Dalebout, S.K. Hooker, and H. Whitehead. 2000. Reliability of photographic and molecular techniques for sexing northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus). Canadian Journal of Zoology 78: 1224-1229.

Return to Dalhousie Whale Research Last Updated April, 1999 by Shannon Gowans