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Keywords:

  • balaenopterid;
  • biopsy;
  • behavior;
  • response frequency;
  • intensity of response

Abstract

Behavioral responses to biopsy sampling of four species of northwestern Atlantic balaenopterid whales summering in the estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec, from 1990 to 1995 were studied to determine if this technique was an important disturbance to the whales. A total of 447 biopsy samples were taken using a small punch-type biopsy tip fired from a crossbow. Biopsies were successfully taken from 91.2% of the whales approached. Whales displayed no reaction to 45.2% of the successful biopsy attempts. Whales that responded to biopsy sampling typically resumed their normal behavior immediately or within a few minutes. Most humpback whales displayed a hard tail flick, and the majority of fin and blue whales submerged following biopsy sampling. Significantly different frequencies and intensities of responses were found between whale species. Minke and humpback whales were found to be more sensitive to biopsy sampling than fin and blue whales. Response frequencies were similar between females and males for all species, with the exception of fin whales where females had a higher response frequency than males. Biopsy sample length, i. e., penetration depth, did not explain variations in response intensity but may influence response frequency to biopsy sampling. Group size, geographical region, and number of biopsies taken per whale were not factors that explained variation in behavioral responses. The biopsy technique was found to be an efficient method for obtaining high-quality whale skin and blubber samples with limited behavioral disturbance to balaenopterid whales.