Beluga Whale Ethogram: A Tool for Cook Inlet Beluga Conservation?
A whale ethogram — a comprehensive description and definition of behavioral states and events exhibited by the endangered stock of Cook Inlet beluga whales.
We present the first peer-reviewed wild beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) whale ethogram, a comprehensive description and definition of behavioral states and events exhibited by the endangered stock of Cook Inlet beluga whales. The ethogram can be used to help quantify beluga behaviors and increase the utility of future and ongoing beluga behavioral studies, in Cook Inlet and for other populations. We tested the applicability of the ethogram by examining spatial, temporal, and environmental effects on the probability of observing specific beluga behaviors in Eagle Bay and Eagle River (Knik Arm, Cook Inlet). Behaviors were observed and recorded from 2007 to 2011 between May and December when belugas are known to forage in the study area. We found that Cook Inlet beluga whales are generally more likely to travel than mill in Eagle Bay, except when the tide is ebbing and above its midpoint. We also found that traveling occurred more frequently in Eagle River than in either the north or south sections of the bay. The results of our quantitative behavioral analysis can be compared with anecdotal observations of whale activity in the bay. We encourage further investigation to more fully explain our results. The language used to define this beluga ethogram will facilitate a more standard approach to behavioral studies of Cook Inlet beluga whales. Additionally, it will provide a means to quantify the response of these whales to anthropogenic activities, and allow comparison among multiple populations. This ethogram will potentially promote innovative approaches to help manage the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale population.
Marian Howe, Manuel Castellote, Christopher Garner, Paul McKee, Robert J. Small, Roderick Hobbs. Published in Marine Fisheries Review, 77(1), 2015. dx.doi.org/10.7755/MFR.77.1.3