Michael Noonan, PhD

Professor of Animal Behavior

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Beluga Whales

Mirror Directed Behavior by Beluga Whales

Clemens, C. & Noonan. M. Mirror-Directed Behavior by Beluga Whales (Delphinapterus leucas). Animal Behavior Society, Anchorage, Alaska, June 2015.

When presented with reflective mirrors, the behavior of some primate species is suggestive of self-perception and self-examination. Similar interpretations have also been offered for mirror-directed behavior in elephants and dolphins. The goal of the present investigation was to examine this phenomenon in beluga whales.

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Underwater Bubbling in Beluga Whales: Rates and Temporal Patterns of Production

George, E. & Noonan, M. Underwater Bubbling in Beluga Whales (Delphinapterus leucas): Rates and Temporal Patterns of Production. Animal Behavior Society, Anchorage, Alaska, June 2015.

Although the production of underwater bubbles has been documented in a number of cetacean species, an understanding of this category of behavior in terms of ecological, cognitive, and social contexts is only beginning to emerge. The present study focuses on the production of underwater bubbling in a captive population of beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas), with the goals of characterizing the extent of bubble production as a function of age and sex, and of assessing the extent of temporal patterns within and across individuals.

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Targeted Spitting in the Beluga Whale: Evidence of Cultural Transmission

Noonan, M., Clemens, C., Ferrente, A., Hunter, J., Stevens, L., Webb, S., Wilson, T. Targeted Spitting in the Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas): Evidence of Cultural Transmission. Animal Behavior Society, Anchorage, Alaska, June 2015.

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Selective Attention by Beluga Whales to Mirror Image Video

Stevens, L. & Noonan, M. Selective Attention by Beluga Whales to Mirror Image Video. American Cetacean Society, Newport Beach, California, November, 2014.

There is evidence that some animals show selective attention to conspecifics that mirror their own movements. That is, both human and non-human animals can be more attracted to members of their own species whose movements and body postures match their own. The present study investigated this phenomenon in captive beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) at Marineland of Canada (Niagara Falls, Ontario)

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Temporal Synchrony in Underwater Bubbling by Beluga Whales

George, E. & Noonan, M. Temporal Synchrony in Underwater Bubbling by Beluga Whales (Delphinapterus leucas): An Example of Social Contagion? Animal Behavior Society, Princeton, New Jersey, June 2014.

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Attention by Beluga Whales to Human Mimicry Movements

George, E., Stevens, L., Suchak, M. & Noonan, M. Attention by Beluga Whales to Human Mimicry Movements. Animal Behavior Society, Boulder, Colorado, August 2013.

Both human and nonhuman primates recognize when they are being imitated, affiliate more with imitators, and are more prosocial towards conspecifics that perform similar actions. These findings bring special focus to the role that mimicry (or at least coordinated movements) play in the social structure of primate species.

The present study extends this line of research to cetaceans. The social behavior of whales and dolphins are often highly synchronized, and at least one species uses coordinated swimming to promote social cohesion. Moreover, Reiss, et al, have shown that dolphins demonstrate prolonged looking at their own mirror reflections. It is time, therefore, to ask experimentally whether a sensitivity to, and preference for, mirroring movements exist in cetaceans in a way that is comparable to that seen in primates.

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Evidence of Segregation by Sex in Juvenile Beluga Whales

Mazikowski, L. & Noonan, M. Evidence of Segregation by Sex in Juvenile Beluga Whales (Delphinapterus leucas). Animal Behavior Society, Boulder, Colorado, August 2013.

During much of the year, observers report seeing socially segregated groups of belugaas, with pods of adult females and associated juveniles separate from pods primarily consisting of adult males. The groups only appear to be intermixed in the Spring, which has been widely presumed to be the mating period.

Even in captivity, there is evidence that males primarily associate with each other during most of the year. The developmental period over which this tendency of males to self-segregate is as yet unknown.

To shed light on this topic, the present study investigated the degree to which male and female beluga calves associated with an adult male with which they were housed.

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Social Development in the Neonatal Beluga Whale

George, E., Brown, M., Capobianco, D., Ferrente, A., Holmes, A., Inzero, J., Miller, J., Patterson, K., Pierson, L., Reeds, V., Servoss, T., Stevens, L., Torre, A., Young, M. & Noonan, M. Social Development in the Neonatal Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas) Animal Behavior Society, Albuquerque, New Mexico, July 2012.

Due to their remote Arctic habitat, very little is known about the natural history of beluga whales. Preliminary surveys indicate that births take place during summer months, at a time when the sexes are segregated. However, to date there is no detailed information available pertaining to the typical social milieu into which baby belugas are born, nor are any details available about their subsequent socialization.
The present study was designed to illuminate these topics by documenting the social contacts made by three baby belugas born into captivity. The investigation focused on the degree to which allomothering occurred, the social mechanisms by which maternal-infant pairs were maintained, and the age at which the young belugas started to interact with age-matched peers.

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Periparturient Behavior in the Beluga Whale

Patterson, K., Brown, M., Young, M., Hayne, N. & Noonan, M. Periparturient Behavior in the Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas) Animal Behavior Society, Albuquerque, New Mexico, July 2012.

Based upon populations surveys, it is characteristic for females of this species to give birth in mid-summer. But because of the inaccessibility of their natural habitat, no direct observations of births have been made in the wild. Any pre-, peri-, and post-natal behavioral sequences characteristic of this species have therefore yet to be documented. For example, it is not known whether they are more or less active as their pregnancy ends, whether they separate themselves in order to give birth alone or remain within their social group, etc.

In an effort to fill in this gap in our understanding of this species, the goal of the present investigation was to document the peri-natal behavior of captive beluga whales that were held in semi-natural conditions.

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Sexual Behavior in the Beluga Whale

Young, M., Pierson, L., Reeds, V., Servoss, T. & Noonan, M. Sexual Behavior in the Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas) Animal Behavior Society, Albuquerque, New Mexico, July 2012.

Preliminary surveys have indicated that for much of the year, adult male belugas segregate into pods that stay separate from groups containing females and young. The sexes evidently intermix for a seasonal peak of sexual activity that takes place in March.

The goals of the present investigation were (a) to ascertain if seasonal breeding is preserved in captivity, and (b) to document the social interactions that occur in and around the breeding season.

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Bubbling Behavior in the Beluga Whale

Noonan, M. & Salerno, A. Bubbling Behavior in the Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas). Animal Behavior Society, Bloomington, IN, August 2011.

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Allomothering in the Beluga Whale

Patterson, K. & Noonan, M. Postnatal Allomothering in the Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas). Rochester Academy of Science, Rochester, NY, November 2010.

Allomothering occurs when a nonrelated individual provides care-giving behaviors to a juvenile in ways that are ordinarily carried out by a mother. In beluga whales maternal care ordinarily takes the form of parallel swimming with a young whale (providing a form of shepherding and/or protection), touching or allowing touching (particularly allowing the adoption of an infant head-tapping position by the young), and/or actual suckling. Prior to the present study, an instance was observed in which a nonparturient adult beluga seemed to completely “adopt” a juvenile. The relationship extended over the course of two years and exhibited all of the normal components of mothering (including nursing). A separate instance of “baby stealing” was also observed in which a dominant peri-parturient female took over the entirety of maternal care (including nursing) from a subordinate female who gave birth at about the same time. These observations raised the question of whether allomothering is an ordinary component of beluga whale behavior. In an effort to examine the extent to which allomothering occurs in this species, the present study assessed this behavior in a wild-caught population held in captivity at Marineland of Canada (Niagara Falls, Ontario).

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Social-Sexual Behavior Seasonality in Captive Beluga Whales

Glabicky, N., DuBrava, A. & Noonan, M. Social-sexual behavior seasonality in captive beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas). Polar Biology, 2010, 33, 1145-1147.

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Context-specific Vocalizations in Captive Beluga Whales

Hovind, L., Korzeniewski, K., Paolucci, P. & Noonan, M. Context-specific vocalizations in captive beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas). Animal Behavior Society, Pirenopolis, Brazil, July 2009.

Belugas characteristically inhabit the waters of the high arctic in areas where sustained observations by humans prove to be nearly impossible. In order to overcome this difficulty, this study sought to correlate the production of call types with visually observed behaviors in a captive population of belugas where sustained observations were possible.

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Parallel Swimming in Captive Maternal Beluga Whales

Fischbach, K., Hempel, E., Jaroszewski, L., Lange, E., Rajczak, A., Yancey, E. & Noonan, M. Parallel Swimming in Captive Maternal Beluga Whales (Delphinapterus leucas). Animal Behavior Society, Burlington, Vermont, August, 2007.

Around the time of birth, the affiliative tendencies of adult females demonstrates a triphasic pattern in some ungulate species. At first, expectant mothers separate themselves from their social groups in order to give birth in isolation. After that, they move into maternal clusters in which mothers and babies affiliate with one another. Later on, as the calves gain more social independence, the affiliative tendencies of the mothers are lessened and they return to their preparturient social groupings. The present study provides partial evidence that a similar pattern of behavior may exist in at least one cetacean species.

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Temporal Synchrony in Beluga Whale Nursing Behavior in Captivity

Macey, S., Hovind, L. & Noonan, M. Temporal synchrony in beluga whale nursing behavior (Delphinapterus leucas) in captivity. Animal Behavior Society, Boise, Idaho, July 2003.

Behavioral synchrony is often seen in social animals, and may be particularly prevalent in reproductive behaviors. When it occurs, questions concerning the adaptive value of such synchrony and the proximal mechanisms which underlie it emerge.

We report here on evidence of temporal synchrony in the nursing behavior of two baby beluga whales born only days apart at Marineland of Canada.

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Body Posture and Behavior as a Function of Age in Captive Neonatal Beluga Whales

Schamel, L., Schneider, L., & Noonan, M. Body posture and behavior as a function of age in captive neonatal beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas). Animal Behavior Society, Boise, Idaho, July, 2003.

The behavioral development of a newborn mammal is critical to its survival and well-being. It is of fundamental importance to fully understand this period in our efforts to gather a complete picture of the natural history of any species. It was the goal of this project to assess changes in the behavior of two beluga calves over their first half-year of life.

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Circadian Rhythms in Rates of Occurrence of Beluga Whale Vocalizations in Captivity

Korzeniewski, K., Paolucci, P., & Noonan, M. Circadian rhythms in rates of occurrence of beluga whale vocalizations (Delphinapterus leucas) in captivity. Animal Behavior Society, Boise, Idaho, July, 2003.

The goal of this investigation was to look for evidence of circadian periodicity in the vocalizations of captive beluga whales in an effort to shed light on their functional significance.

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Behavioural Landmarks in the Development of Neonatal Beluga Whales

Schneider, L., Schamel, L. & Noonan, M. Behavioural Landmarks in the Development of Neonatal Beluga Whales (Delphinapterus leucas). European Cetacean Society, Gran Canaria (Canary Islands), March, 2003.

The behavioral development of a newborn mammal is critical to its survival and wellbeing. It is of fundamental importance to fully understand this period in our efforts to gather a complete picture of the natural history of any species. It was the goal of this project to assess the frequency of maternalinfant contact and to appraise changes in the behavior of two beluga calves over their first half-year of life.

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