Studying oceanic cetacean societies: their diversity, complexity, and conservation.
Studies of cetacean behavior provide information on social organization, social signals, mating systems and anthropogenic impacts. The goal of these studies is to provide a social framework within which to investigate questions about stock identity, population trends and fishery interactions. The cetacean behavior studies reflect the interests and expertise of many researchers in the Marine Mammal and Turtle Division. We use a variety of tools and work in collaboration on a number of different questions related to cetacean societies and social living in the open ocean.
Cetacean Social Structure
Within the Marine Mammal Genetic Group, researchers are working on a number of projects that use molecular techniques to document the social organization, social structure and sex-biased dispersal patterns of wild cetaceans. There are studies on several species, including sperm whales, Dall's porpoises, eastern tropical Pacific dolphins, belugas, killer whales, pilot whales, and gray whales.
Cetacean Mating Systems, Sexual Dimorphism and Sperm Competition
We are working on comparative studies of cetacean mating systems based on relative testes sizes and sexually dimorphic characters. We are interested in both intraspecific variation in mating systems (spinner dolphins) and interspecific variation (comparative studies of the odontocete cetaceans and work in collaboration with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.)
Anthropogenic Impacts on Eastern Tropical Pacific Dolphin Behavior
We are studying variation in dolphin behavior in several stocks of eastern tropical Pacific dolphins involved in the tuna purse-seine fishery. In these studies, we are interested in the application of new (Random Forest) statistical methods to determine predictors of dolphin behavior and the potential impacts of social disruption (caused by the reaction of individual dolphins and of dolphin schools to fishing operations) on the ability of dolphins to reproduce as expected.
Biogeographic Variation in Cetacean Acoustic Signals
We are interested in biogeographic variation in social signals (primarily acoustic) and the use of acoustic signals as indicators of population identity. This project is in collaboration with John Hildebrand at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Mark McDonald at Whaleacoustics. Most recently, the collaboration investigated hypotheses to explain the decrease in pitch of blue whale song globally.
Behavioral Ecology of Killer Whales
We collaborate with other programs within the Marine Mammal and Turtle Division on investigations of killer whale behavior, ecology and evolution and how the risk of predation by mammal eating killer whales influences the behavior and ecology of other cetacean species. In the eastern tropical Pacific, we investigate the genetic structure of groups.
For additional information, contact Sarah.Mesnick@noaa.gov
Orbach DN, Brennan PL, Hedrick BP, Keener W, Webber MA, Mesnick SL. 2020. Asymmetric and Spiraled Genitalia coevolve with Unique Lateralized Mating Behavior. Scientific Reports. 10(1):1-8.
Brakes P, Dall SR, Aplin LM, Bearhop S, Carroll EL, Ciucci P, Fishlock V, Ford JK, Garland EC, Keith SA, McGregor PK. 2019. Animal cultures matter for conservation. Science. 363(6431):1032-4.
Berger‐Tal O, Blumstein DT, Carroll S, Fisher RN, Mesnick SL, Owen MA, Saltz D, St Claire CC, Swaisgood RR. 2016. A systematic survey of the integration of animal behavior into conservation. Conservation Biology. 30(4):744-53.
Dines JP, Mesnick SL, Ralls K, May‐Collado L, Agnarsson I, Dean MD. 2015. A trade‐off between precopulatory and postcopulatory trait investment in male cetaceans. Evolution. 69(6):1560-72.
Schakner ZA, Lunsford C, Straley J, Eguchi T, Mesnick SL. 2014. Using models of social transmission to examine the spread of longline depredation behavior among sperm whales in the Gulf of Alaska. PLoS One.9(10):e109079.
Caro T, Stankowich T, Mesnick SL, Costa DP, Beeman K. 2012. Pelage coloration in pinnipeds: functional considerations. Behavioral Ecology. 23(4):765-74.
Rendell L, Mesnick SL, Dalebout ML, Burtenshaw J, Whitehead H. 2012. Can Genetic Differences Explain Vocal Dialect Variation in Sperm Whales, Physeter macrocephalus? Behavior genetics. 42(2):332-43.
Archer FI, Mesnick SL, Allen AC. 2010. Variation and predictors of vessel-response behavior in a tropical dolphin community. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS NOAA-TM-NMFS-SWFSC-457. 54 pp.
McDonald MA, Hildebrand JA, Mesnick S. Worldwide decline in tonal frequencies of blue whale songs. Endangered species research. 2009 Oct 23;9(1):13-21.
Mesnick, S.L. and Ralls, K. 2008. Mating Systems. In, Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals, Second Edition (eds., W.F. Perrrin, H.G.M. Thewissen and B. Würsig). Academic Press, San Diego. Pages 712-719.
Ralls, K. and Mesnick, S.L. 2008. Sexual Dimorphism. In, Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals, Second Edition (eds., W.F. Perrrin, H.G.M. Thewissen and B. Würsig). Academic Press, San Diego. Pages 1005 – 1011.
Rubio-Cisneros, N.., Mesnick, S.L., Vázquez-Juárez, R.., Urbán-Ramírez, J., Godard, C.A.J., Payne, R.. and Dizon, A.E. 2007. Genetic sex determination supports the Gulf of California as an important habitat for male and female sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus). Latin American Journal of Aquatic Mammals 5(2): 125-128.
McDonald, M.A., Mesnick, S.L. and Hildebrand, J.A. 2006. Biogeographic characterization of blue whale song worldwide: using song to identify populations. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 8: 55-65.
Allen, A., Mesnick, S.L., Anderson, M., and Dixson, A. 2003. Phylogenetic analysis of testes size in odontocete cetaceans. Abstract presented at the 15th Biennial Conference of the Marine Mammal Society. Greensboro, North Carolina, December 2003.
Bonness, D., Clapham, P.J. and Mesnick, S.L. 2002. Life History and Reproductive Strategies. In,Marine Mammals: An Evolutionary Approach (ed., R. Hoelzel).Blackwell Science, Ltd. Pp. 278-324.
Escorza-Trevino, S., and A.E. Dizon. 2000. Phylogeography, intraspecific structure, and sex-biased dispersal of Dall's porpoise, Phocoenoides dalli, revealed by mitochondrial and microsatellite DNA analysis. Molecular Ecology 9:1049-1060.
Mesnick, S.L., Evans, K. Taylor, B.L., Hyde, J., Escorza-Trevino, S and Dizon, A.E. 2003. Sperm Whale Social Structure: Why it Takes a Village to Raise a Child. Pages 170-174, In, Animal Social Complexity: Intelligence, Culture and Individualized Societies (F.B.M. de Waal and P.L. Tyack, eds.). Harvard University Press
Mesnick, S.L. 2001. Genetic Relatedness in Sperm Whales: Evidence and Cultural Implications. Behavior and Brain Science 24(2):346-347
Mesnick, S.L., Clapham, P.J. and Dizon, A.E. 1999. The Collection of Associated Behavioral Data with Biopsy Samples during Cetacean Assessment Cruises. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 1(2): 205-211
Mesnick, S. L., Taylor, B.L., Le Duc, R.G., Escorza Trevino, S., O'Corry-Crowe, G.M. and Dizon, A.E. 1999. Culture and Genetic Evolution in Whales. Science, 284: 2055a
O'Corry-Crowe GM, Suydam RS, Rosenberg A et al. (1997) Phylogeography, population structure and dispersal patterns of the beluga whale Delphinapterus leucas in the western Nearctic revealed by mitochondrial DNA. Molecular Ecology, 6, 955-970.
Perrin, W.F. and Mesnick, S.L. 2003. Sexual ecology of the spinner dolphin, Stenella longirostris:, geographic variation in mating system. Marine Mammal Science, 19(3):462-483
Pitman, R.L. 2003. Good whale hunting. Natural History December 2003/January 2004:24-28
Pitman, R.L., S. O'Sullivan, and B. Mase. In Press. Killer whales (Orcinus orca) attack a school of pantropical spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata) in the Gulf of Mexico. Aquatic Mammals.
Pitman, R.L. and P. Ensor. 2003. Three different forms of killer whales in Antarctic waters. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 5(2):131-139
Pitman, R.L., Ballance, L.T., Mesnick, S.L. and Chivers, S. 2001. Killer Whale Predation on Sperm Whales: Observations and Implications for Large Whale Biology. Marine Mammal Science: 17(3):494-507.
Pitman, R.L. and S.J. Chivers. 1998/1999. Terror in black and white. Natural History 107:26-29.