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Keywords:

  • reproduction;
  • Eubalaena glacialis;
  • right whale;
  • playback;
  • baleen whale;
  • surface active group

Abstract

The surface active group (SAG) is the most obvious social interaction of the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis). SAGs are typically composed of an adult female with two or more males engaged in social behavior near the surface. Distinct calls, believed to be produced by the female, are associated with these groups. Calls recorded from three North Atlantic right whale SAGs and three South Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena australis) SAGs were played back to North Atlantic right whales to determine if these sounds are sufficient to attract males to the groups. Playbacks of gunshot sounds produced by North Atlantic right whales were used as a control stimulus. Thirty-six trials were carried out from 1999 to 2001 in the Bay of Fundy, Canada. Whales approached 27 of 31 SAG playbacks and 0 of 5 gunshot playbacks. Where sex was determined (n= 28), all approaches to North Atlantic SAG recordings were by males. Individuals (n= 22) of all age and sex classes approached South Atlantic SAG playbacks. These trials indicate that SAG calls from both populations are sufficient to attract right whales to SAGs and that males and females respond differently to stimuli from the North Atlantic. The difference in response to North and South Atlantic SAG stimuli was unexpected. Novelty, species differences in calls, and different seasonal or behavioral context for the recorded stimuli may be responsible for the differences in response.