ABS 2022
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Observations of Dolphin and Whale Sexual Behaviors From An Aerial Perspective
Dara N Orbach1, Karin L Hartman2, Jordan Lerma3, Robin W Baird3, Fabian Rodríguez-González4, 5, Eric A Ramos6, 7. 1Texas A&M University- Corpus Christi, Corpus Christi, Texas, United States; 2Risso’s Dolphin Research Center, Nova Atlantis Foundation, Pico, Azores, Portugal; 3Cascadia Research Collective, Olympia, Washington, United States; 4Laguna San Ignacio Ecosystem Science Program , San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, Mexico; 5Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur, La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico; 6Fundación Internacional para la Naturaleza y la Sustentabilidad, Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico; 7The Rockefeller University, New York, New York, United States

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are increasingly used to research cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) that reside in inaccessible waters and can be noninvasive if flown at a minimal altitude. In recent years, UAVs have been applied to ascertain the identity, population estimates, genetics, and health status of a variety of species of cetaceans, although few studies have applied UAVs to assess behavioral patterns. It was recently documented that behavioral data on dolphins are more accurate when collected via UAV compared to a vessel platform. We present high-resolution UAV video footage of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), dusky dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obscurus), Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus), rough-toothed dolphins (Steno bredanensis), and gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) engaged in conspecific socio-sexual behaviors. We analyze and compare videos of species-specific sexual behaviors that are uniquely discernable from an aerial perspective, and discuss how selection pressures may contribute to mating tactics. We elucidate questions about the mating patterns of cetaceans that can now be addressed through reliable utility of aerial platforms of observation.