Mating and sociosexual behaviors of cetaceans are challenging to study in nature because most species spend only brief periods of time at the surface and most copulation and courtship occurs underwater. Recent advancements in technology have enabled a new perspective on these behaviors. Drones, or unoccupied aerial systems, have revolutionized studies of marine mammals by providing unparalleled aerial perspectives on the behaviors of whales, porpoises, and dolphins, including their use for investigating questions concerning the sexual behaviors and mating habits of species in near-surface waters. Drones offer numerous benefits over traditional boat- and land-based observational methods for studying mating in free-swimming cetaceans, including the ability to continuously film in high resolution for fine-scale tracking of activity and mating behaviors at and near the water’s
surface. This paper outlines various ways in which drone data can be used to understand mating in cetaceans, including novel drone-based video observations of six species of dolphins and whales. These examples illustrate specific sociosexual and mating behaviors and how drone-based data can be used to address questions about the diversity of sexual behaviors and mating strategies. The use of drones is improving opportunities to investigate the fitness advantages of mating tactics and their evolutionary drivers.
Ramos, E.A., K.L. Hartman, R.W. Baird, J.K. Lerma, F. Missael Rodríguez-González, and D.N. Orbach. 2023. Drone Perspectives on Cetacean Mating and Sex. Pages 225-249 in: Sex in Cetaceans. Edited by B. Würsig and D. N. Orbach. Springer.Download PDF
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