Behavioral reactions of northern bottlenose whales to biopsy darting and tag attachment procedures

Sascha K. Hooker, Robin W. Baird, Sa'ad Al-Omari, Shannon Gowans and Hal Whitehead. 2001.

Fishery Bulletin 99: 303-308.

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Abstract -

The effects of invasive or intrusive research techniques need to be thoroughly documented in order to satisfy appropriate standards of animal care. How cetaceans react to either biopsy darting or tag attachment procedures has been studied for several species, and considerable interspecific variability in responses has been demonstrated; however, few studies have compared reactions to both techniques. In the family Ziphiidae (the beaked whales) nothing has previously been reported on responses to either technique. We examined and compared the reactions of northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus) to biopsy darting and tagging. Reactions to both these procedures were generally low-level and short-lived; stronger responses were given to hits than to misses. There was no statistical difference in observed response to tag versus biopsy hits. The prior behavioral state of the whales appeared to influence the magnitude of reaction to both hits and misses and thus may be an important factor to consider in impact assessment. Whales lying still at the surface showed stronger reactions than traveling or milling animals. Sea state appeared to affect whether there was a reaction to misses. Whales were more likely to respond to a miss in calm sea conditions. No avoidance of the research vessel was observed following a tag or biopsy attempt, and in most cases whales re-approached the research vessel again within several minutes.

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