Melon-headed whale (Peponocephala electra)

Foraging specialization, environmental barriers, and social structure have driven the development of strong genetic differentiation within many marine species, including most of the large dolphin species commonly referred to as ‘blackfish’ (subfamily Globicephalinae).  We used mitochondrial sequence data (mtDNA) and genotypes from 14 nuclear microsatellite loci (nDNA) to examine patterns of genetic population structure in melon-headed whales (MHWs, Peponocephala electra), a poorly known member of the blackfish family for which genetic structuring is unknown.  M

As awareness of the effects of anthropogenic noise on marine mammals has grown, research has broadened from evaluating physiological responses including injury and mortality to considering effects on behavior and acoustic communication. Most mitigation efforts attempt to minimize injury by enabling animals to move away as noise levels are increased gradually. Recent experiences demonstrate that this approach is inadequate or even counterproductive for small, localized marine mammal populations, for which displacement of animals may itself cause harm.

Species misidentification is a common problem for some groups of cetaceans, and may lead to inaccurate descriptions of behavior, habitat use, group size, abundance, or acoustic characteristics, among other things. Four tropical species of “blackfish” overlap broadly in their ranges and are often confused at sea owing to their similar gray-black coloration, bulbous head without a beak, and falcate dorsal fin: pygmy killer whales, melon-headed whales, short-finned pilot whales, and false killer whales.

We assess the potential for population structure of melon-headed whales (Peponocephala electra) around the main Hawaiian Islands based on photo-identification data from 2002 through 2010, to help inform genetic analyses of population structure and interpretation of data obtained from satellite tags.

Of the 18 species of odontocetes known to be present in Hawaiian waters, small resident populations of 11 species—dwarf sperm whales, Blainville’s beaked whales, Cuvier’s beaked whales, pygmy killer whales, short-finned pilot whales, melon-headed whales, false killer whales, pantropical spotted dolphins, spinner dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, and common bottlenose dolphins—have been identified, based on two or more lines of evidence, including results from small-boat sightings and survey effort, photo-identification, genetic analyses, and satellite tagging.

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