High Site Fidelity, Strong Associations, and Long-Term Bonds: Short-Finned Pilot Whales off the Island of Hawai‘i

Studies of short-finned pilot whales suggest they travel in stable mixed-sex groups composed of strongly associated individuals; however, temporal analyses of social structure are lacking. To examine site fidelity, association patterns, and temporal relationships, we analyzed data from 267 encounters of this species off the island of Hawai‘i from 2003 through 2007, identifying 448 distinctive individuals (68.1% seen more than once). About 72% of the whales were linked by association into a single social network, suggesting the possibility of multiple populations using the area. Sighting histories suggested that only some individuals exhibit high site fidelity. Individuals demonstrated preferential associations and community division was strongly supported by average-linkage hierarchical cluster analysis of the association data. Nine longitudinally stable social units composed of key individuals and their constant companions were identified. Qualitative assignment of age and sex classes of unit members indicated that some segregation between adult males and female/ calf pairs may occur. Temporal analyses of individuals encountered on the same day indicate stable long-term associations. Differential patterns of residency and site fidelity were unexpected and may be indicative of multiple populations around the main Hawaiian Islands. The presence of a resident population demonstrating strong, long-term site fidelity and associations off Hawai‘i Island may warrant special management considerations.


Mahaffy, S.D., R.W. Baird, D.J. McSweeney, D.L. Webster, and G.S. Schorr. 2015. High Site Fidelity, Strong Associations and Long-Term Bonds: Short-Finned Pilot Whales off the Island of Hawai‘i. Marine Mammal Science 31(4): 1427-1451. doi: 10.1111/mms.12234

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