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Abstract: The habits and habitats of pygmy killer whales (Feresa attenuata) in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) are poorly known outside of strandings and line-transect surveys. Two adult male pygmy killer whales were found live-stranded in the state of Mississippi (USA) on 1 September 2015 and were subsequently rehabilitated and returned to the offshore waters of the GoM on 11 July 2016. To monitor the animals post-release, both were tagged with satellite-linked location and dive behavior tags. Tags were programed to record and transmit dive duration and depth (when dives were ≥ 30 m deep for ≥ 30 s), duration of time spent above 30 m depth, and estimate locations using the Argos system. The tags transmitted for 15 and 88 days, respectively, providing a total of 1,027 filtered locations and 3,150 dive duration and maximum depth records. The animals began diving after two and four days, respectively, post-release. More than 96% of dives occurred at night. The longest recorded dive was more than 9 min in duration, and the deepest was to 368 m. More than 98% of the locations were over the GoM shelf break, spanning water 200 to 1,200 m deep. Diving patterns indicate that this species is most active at night in the GoM, suggesting its prey species are likely diel migrators that are below reachable depths during daylight hours. Near simultaneous location data from both animals confirmed that they stayed in close proximity but did not dive synchronously. Success of the rehabilitation and release was inconclusive for pygmy killer whale ID 30IMMS, whereas 31IMMS met the established criteria for success with ≥ 6 weeks of documented post-release survival. Follow-up monitoring through satellite-linked telemetry provided not only important data for evaluating the success of the rehabilitation but also for documenting the activity and habitat use of these seldom-observed cetaceans.
Key Words: cetacean tag, dive behavior, pygmy killer whale, Feresa attenuata, marine mammal, post-release monitoring, satellite-linked telemetry
Page Numbers: 555-567