Effects of added drag on cetaceans : fishing gear entanglement and external tag attachment
van der Hoop, Julie
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Animal movement is motivated in part by energetic constraints, where fitness is maximized by minimizing energy consumption. The energetic cost of movement depends on the resistive forces acting on an animal; changes in this force balance can occur naturally or unnaturally. Fishing gear that entangles large whales adds drag, often altering energy balance to the point of terminal emaciation. An analog to this is drag from tags attached to cetaceans for research and monitoring. This thesis quantifies the effects of drag loading from these two scenarios on fine-scale movements, behaviors and energy consumption. I measured drag forces on fishing gear that entangled endangered North Atlantic right whales and combined these measurements with theoretical estimates of drag on whales’ bodies. Entanglement in fishing gear increased drag forces by up to 3 fold. Bio-logging tags deployed on two entangled right whales recorded changes in the diving and fine-scale movement patterns of these whales in response to relative changes in drag and buoyancy from fishing gear and through disentanglement: some swimming patterns were consistently modulated in response. Disentanglement significantly altered dive behavior, and can affect thrust production. Changes in the force balance and swimming behaviors have implications for the survival of chronically entangled whales. I developed two bioenergetics approaches to estimate that chronic, lethal entanglements cost approximately the same amount as the cost of pregnancy and supporting a calf to near-weaning. I then developed a method to estimate drag, energy burden and survival of an entangled whale at detection. This application is essential for disentanglement response and protected species management. Experiments with tagged bottlenose dolphins suggest similar responses to added drag: I determined that instrumented animals slow down to avoid additional energetic costs associated with drag from small bio-logging tags, and incrementally decrease swim speed as drag increases. Metabolic impacts are measurable when speed is constrained. I measured the drag forces on these tags and developed guidelines depending on the relative size of instruments to study-species. Together, these studies quantify the magnitude of added drag in complementary systems, and demonstrate how animals alter their movement to navigate changes in their energy landscape associated with increased drag.
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution February 2017
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