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Data from: Groups of related belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) travel together during their seasonal migrations in and around Hudson Bay

Citation

Colbeck, Gabriel J. et al. (2013), Data from: Groups of related belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) travel together during their seasonal migrations in and around Hudson Bay, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.q164g

Abstract

Social structure involving long-term associations with relatives should facilitate the learning of complex behaviours such as long-distance migration. In and around Hudson Bay (Canada), three stocks of beluga whales form a panmictic unit, but have different migratory behaviours associated with different summering areas. We analysed genetic variation at 13 microsatellite loci among 1524 belugas, to test hypotheses about social structure in belugas. We found significant proportions of mother–offspring pairs throughout the migratory cycle, but average relatedness extended beyond close kinship only during migration. Average relatedness was significantly above random expectations for pairs caught at the same site but on different days or months of a year, suggesting that belugas maintain associations with a network of relatives during migration. Pairs involving a female (female–female or male–female) were on average more related than pairs of males, and males seemed to disperse from their matrilineal group to associate with other mature males. Altogether, our results indicate that relatives other than strictly parents, and especially females, play a role in maintaining a social structure that could facilitate the learning of migration routes. Cultural conservatism may limit contributions from nearby summer stocks to endangered stocks such as the Eastern Hudson Bay beluga.

Usage Notes

Location

South Baffin Island
Hudson Bay