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Sighting of Three Female Gervais’ Beaked Whales (Mesoplodon europaeus) from the Exuma Sound, The Bahamas
Oliver N. Shipley, Owen R. O’Shea, Edward J. Brooks, and Zachary C. Zuckerman

Caribbean Naturalist, No. 32

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Caribbean Naturalist 1 O.N. Shipley, O.R. O’Shea, E.J. Brooks, and Z.C. Zuckerman 22001166 CARIBBEAN NATURALIST No. 3N2o:1. –342 Sighting of Three Female Gervais’ Beaked Whales (Mesoplodon europaeus) from the Exuma Sound, The Bahamas Oliver N. Shipley1,*, Owen R. O’Shea1, Edward J. Brooks1, and Zachary C. Zuckerman1 Abstract - Of all marine mammals, the beaked whales are one group for which very little data has been collected, largely due to their elusive foraging strategies associated with extended deep-dives. Mesoplodon europaeus (Gervais’ Beaked Whale) are found throughout the northern Atlantic; however, they are only known in The Bahamas through an extremely limited number of sightings. Here we present a rare sighting of 3 female adult Gervais’ Beaked Whales from the Exuma Sound, The Bahamas. Beaked whales (Cetartiodactyla: Ziphiidea) are medium-sized odontocetes (toothed whales) comprising 20 species that have received increased attention in recent years due to the increasing prevalence of mass-stranding events, theoretically linked with anthropogenic noise pollution (Finneran et al. 2009, Frantzis 1998, Jepson et al. 2003, Martin et al. 2004). Sightings of these whales in the wild are often scarce due to extended periods of time spent performing deep diving (>1000 m) behavior as observed in species such as the Ziphius cavirostris Cuvier (Cuvier’s Beaked Whale) and Mesoplodon densirostris Blainville (Blainville’s Beaked Whale) (Baird et al. 2006, Tyack et al. 2006). Due to their cryptic life styles, basic data pertaining to beaked whales has mainly been collected through stranding events; thus they are one of the least-known classes of all marine mammals (Johnson et al. 2004). Of all the species of beaked whales, Mesoplodon europaeus (Gervais) (Gervais’ Beaked Whale) remains one for which relatively little data has been collected (Folkens et al. 2002). Sightings of this species from The Bahamas extend across southern Grand Bahama, east Abaco, the Tongue of the Ocean, and the Exuma Sound (Claridge et al. 2015). The Exuma Sound is a deep-sea inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, situated between Eleuthera and Cat Island to the east and the Great Exuma island chain to the west. Previous sighting locations for Gervais’ Beaked Whales in this area, as highlighted by Claridge et al. (2015), encompassed a total of 17 individuals consisting of 3 groups at the northern fringe of the Sound, 3 in the southeast situated around the southern tip of Cat Island, and 2 sightings along the west and southwest coast. All sightings of this species thus far have been within relative proximity to the continental shelf of the Sound, and did not extend further into more central locations, where waters may exceed depths of 1600 m (Ball et al. 1969). In addition, there is a lack of data pertaining to whether 1The Cape Eleuthera Institute, Eleuthera, The Bahamas. *Corresponding author - olivershipley@ceibahamas.org. Manuscript Editor: Antonio Mignucci-Giannoni Caribbean Naturalist O.N. Shipley, O.R. O’Shea, E.J. Brooks, and Z.C. Zuckerman 2016 No. 32 2 this species is highly migratory across Bahamian waters or display residency within specific areas. Furthermore, knowledge pertaining to social behavior in the Gervais’ Beaked Whale extends only as far as quantifying clicking frequency for 3 groups of 2–4 individuals recorded off the coast of Great Abaco, northern Bahamas (Gillespie et al. 2009). The lack of of Gervais’ Beaked Whale Sightings has resulted in an extremely low number of photographs, especially underwater images of whole individuals and animals within small groups. Here we report a rare sighting of a group of Gervais’ Beaked Whales from the Exuma Sound, The Bahamas. Additionally, we present the first full-body underwater photographs of this species in the wi ld (Figs. 1, 2, 3). On 9 February 2014, three Gervais’ Beaked Whales were sighted during unrelated research activity from the Cape Eleuthera Institute, Eleuthera, to Norman’s Cay in The Exuma Island chain, approximately 10 nautical miles SW from Cape Eleuthera (24°77'53 N, 76°48'92 W). We identified the animals as adult females by their large size (at least 4.5 m) and lack of erupting teeth, a characteristic associated only with mature males within this species (Heyning and Mead 1996). Animals were first observed breaking the surface (Fig. 2) before approaching the research vessel, at which time underwater video was recorded using a GoPro Hero3+ (www. gopro.com) (Figs. 2, 3). The individual whales remained within close proximity to each other throughout the duration of the sighting (~8 minutes), after which time, the animals swam as a group away from the research vessel until they were no longer visible, presumably having dived. Despite the limited ecological conclusions that can be drawn from this opportunistic sighting of an extremely enigmatic whale, we report the first sighting of this Figure 1. Gervais’ Beaked Whales observed breaking the water in synchrony within a close group. Caribbean Naturalist 3 O.N. Shipley, O.R. O’Shea, E.J. Brooks, and Z.C. Zuckerman 2016 No. 32 species from the central Exuma Sound. Coupled with sighting data from Claridge et al. (2015), this record further suggests the Exuma Sound may provide adequate habitat for this species, possibly through providing foraging opportunities during characteristic extended deep-diving behaviors (Connor et al. 1998). Although sightings of this species are rare, the Exuma Sound could facilitate further study of these whales due to its unique bathymetric structure and relative ease of accessibility (Brooks et al. 2015, Gillespie et al. 2009). Figure 2. Three adult Gervais’ Beaked Whales remaining within a close group. Figure 3. A single female Gervais’ Beaked Whale. Caribbean Naturalist O.N. Shipley, O.R. O’Shea, E.J. Brooks, and Z.C. Zuckerman 2016 No. 32 4 Acknowledgments The authors would like to acknowledge D. Claridge (Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organization) and R. Pittman (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association) for positively identifying animals and providing species information, W. Strathman, and A. Gordon for enhancing photographs, and the Cape Eleuthera Foundation for funding this research cruise. M. Violich, D. Swift, and J. Bernus provided technical assistance on the research cruise. Literature Cited Baird, R.W., D.L. Webster, D.J. McSweeney, A.D. Ligon, G.S. Schorr, and J. Barlow. 2006. Diving behaviour of Cuvier’s (Ziphius cavirostris) and Blainville’s (Mesoplodon densirostris) Beaked Whales in Hawaii. Canadian Journal of Zoology 84(8):1120–1128. Ball, M.M., C.G.A. Harrison, R.J. Hurley, and C.E. Leist. 1969. Bathymetry in the vicinity of the northeastern scarp of the Great Bahama Bank and Exuma Sound. Bulletin of Marine Science 19(2):243–252. Brooks, E.J., A.M. Brooks, S. Williams, L.K. Jordan, D. Abercrombie, D.D. Chapman, L.A. Howey-Jordan, and R.D. Grubbs. 2015. First description of deep-water elasmobranch assemblages in the Exuma Sound, The Bahamas. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography 115:81–91. Claridge, D., C. Dunn, G. Ylitalo, D. Herman, J. 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