A new report in Marine Mammal Science on the findings of a study of pilot whales off Nova Scotia, Canada, has shown that adult whales in the population look after the young of unrelated other whales. While this type of babysitting, know as “alloparental care”, has been observed in other social mammals, it is the first time it has been studied in pilot whales.
The whales have been observed from whale-watching boats since 1998 and using various techniques, including photo-identification, the researchers were able to record how calves would interact with different adult whales. Alloparenting was considered to be taking place when the whales were seen with at least one whale other than its mother. In some years, the activity was recorded in over 80% of calves, with both male and female whales taking part in the caring. Several other species of whales and dolphins that live in social groups, such as sperm whales, orcas and bottlenose dolphins also take part in similar activities.
Characterizing alloparental care in the pilot whale (Globicephala melas) population that summers off Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada
Authors: Joana F. Augusto, Timothy R. Frasier, Hal Whitehead
Marine Mammal Science