Spatial and social connectivity of fish-eating "Resident" killer whales (Orcinus orca) in the northern North Pacific

TitleSpatial and social connectivity of fish-eating "Resident" killer whales (Orcinus orca) in the northern North Pacific
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsFearnbach H., Durban JW, Ellifrit D.K, Waite J.M, Matkin C.O, Lunsford C.R, Peterson M.J, Barlow J, Wade P.R
JournalMarine Biology
Date Published2014/02
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number0025-3162
Accession NumberWOS:000330617800018
Keywordsbottle-nosed dolphins; british-columbia; central aleutian islands; cultural transmission; eumetopias-jubatus; genetic differentiation; oceanographic domains; population-structure; prince-william-sound; southeastern bering-sea

The productive North Pacific waters of the Gulf of Alaska, Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea support a high density of fish-eating "Resident" type killer whales (Orcinus orca), which overlap in distribution with commercial fisheries, producing both direct and indirect interactions. To provide a spatial context for these interactions, we analyzed a 10-year dataset of 3,058 whale photo-identifications from 331 encounters within a large (linear similar to 4,000 km) coastal study area to investigate the ranging and social patterns of 532 individually identifiable whales photographed in more than one encounter. Although capable of large-scale movements (maximum 1,443 km), we documented ranges generally < 200 km, with high site fidelity across summer sampling intervals and also re-sightings during a winter survey. Bayesian analysis of pair-wise associations identified four defined clusters, likely representing groupings of stable matrilines, with distinct ranging patterns, that combined to form a large network of associated whales that ranged across most of the study area. This provides evidence of structure within the Alaska stock of Resident killer whales, important for evaluating ecosystem and fisheries impacts. This network included whales known to depredate groundfish from longline fisheries, and we suggest that such large-scale connectivity has facilitated the spread of depredation.

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