• biopsy sampling;
  • genetics;
  • humpback whale;
  • Megaptera novaeangliae

Abstract: Reactions of humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, to the taking of skin biopsies and to associated activities were studied on one of their principal West Indies breeding grounds on Silver Bank (Dominican Republic). Results were in some cases different from those reported from a similar study of this species in a high-latitude feeding area. Almost half (44.1%) of 565 biopsied whales showed no immediate reaction to a hit, while a further 22.5% showed only low-level reactions. A total of 375 (87.8%) of 427 misses involved no reaction. Only one strong reaction was recorded. Behavior changes were recorded following 31 (5.5%) of 569 hits, and 18 (4.5%) of 404 misses. Evasive behavior related to vessel approach was exhibited prior to 72 (12.0%) of 598 hits and 100 (24.1%) of 415 misses. Mothers showed significantly fewer reactions to hits than other whales, and a similar frequency and type of behavior changes, although they tended to be more evasive before a shot was made. Presumed males in competitive groups also showed significantly fewer reactions to shots, and very few behavior changes. Overall, this study supports the belief that the biopsy itself has little effect on a whale and that, if the associated vessel approach is conducted with care, samples can usually be taken with minimal disturbance to the target animal. However, approaches may affect the probability of obtaining fluke photographs for individual identification.