Movements and Dive Patterns of Short-Finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) Released from a Mass Stranding in the Florida Keys

Abstract: Short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) are among the most common cetaceans to engage in mass strandings in the southeastern United States. Because these are primarily pelagic, continental shelf-edge animals, much of what is known about this species has derived from mass stranding events. Post-release monitoring via satellite-linked telemetry was conducted with two adult males determined on-site to be healthy, and released directly from a mass stranding of 23 pilot whales in May 2011, near Cudjoe Key, Florida. Tracking provided an opportunity to evaluate the decision for immediate release vs rehabilitation, and to learn more about the lives of members of this difficult-to-study species in the wild. The two pilot whales remained together for at least 16 d before transmissions from one pilot whale (Y-404) ceased. Dive patterns and travel rates suggested that Y-404’s condition deteriorated prior to signal loss. Pilot Whale Y-400 was tracked for another 51 d, moving from the Blake Plateau to the Greater Antilles, remaining in the Windward Passage east of Cuba for the last 17 d of tracking. Once he reached the Antilles, Y-400 remained in high-relief habitat appropriate for the species and made dives within or exceeding the reported range for depth and duration for this species, following expected diel patterns, presumably reflecting continued good health. Telemetry data indicate that he made at least one dive to 1,000 to 1,500 m, and several dives lasted more than 40 min. Although the fates of the two released pilot whales may have been different, the concept of evaluating health and releasing individuals determined to be healthy at the time of stranding appears to have merit as an alternative to bringing all members of mass-stranded pilot whale groups into rehabilitation.

Key Words: short-finned pilot whale, Globicephala macrorhynchus, satellite-linked telemetry, dolphin tags, marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation, health assessment, mass stranding

Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1578/AM.39.1.2013.61

Page Numbers: 61-72

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