Michael Noonan, PhD

Professor of Animal Behavior

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Killer Whales

Killer Whale Vocalizations during Periods of Reconciliatory Echelon Swimming

Coppinger, B., Herman-Haase, H. & Noonan, M. Killer Whale Vocalizations during Periods of Reconciliatory Echelon Swimming. Animal Behavior Society, Princeton, New Jersey, June 2014.

Following episodes of intraspecific aggression, killer whales show periods of avoidance that are followed by periods of echelon swimming that have been interpreted as reconciliatory. The goal of the present study was to characterize the calls produced by orcas during such echelon swimming.

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Social Interactions Between Juvenile Killer Whales

Coppinger, B., Cooler, A., Gilbert, K., Herman-Haase, H., Sperber, S. & Noonan, M. Social Interactions Between Juvenile Killer Whales. Animal Behavior Society, Boulder, Colorado, August 2013.

Social play is critical in the development of behavior, and this is particularly pronounced in long-lived, large-brained species. Much less information is available for marine mammals and their interactions, but given that many marine mammals are themselves long-lived and large-brained, it can be expected that their social behavior similarly benefits from frequent rehearsals during juvenile-juvenile interactions. The present investigation documents the interactions that occurred between two juvenile male killer whales.

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Interactions Between an Adult Male and Juveniles in Captive Killer Whales

Reeds, V. & Noonan, M. Interactions between an Adult Male and Juveniles in Captive Killer Whales. Animal Behavior Society, Albuquerque, New Mexico, July 2012.

The killer whale is a long-lived species in which individuals normally remain in stable social groups. Observations of wild whales indicate that both female and male offspring characteristically remain in their natal group, even into their own adulthood, and through the time when they themselves are producing offspring.

Yet, there is little available information about the nature of any interactions that may occur between adult males and young in this species. In an effort to fill in this gap, the goal of the present study was to characterize the interactions between a single adult male and three of his own calves, held at Marineland of Canada.

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On the Behavior and Welfare of Killer Whales in Captivity

Noonan, M. On the Behavior and Welfare of Killer Whales in Captivity. Special Species Symposium, Cornell University Veterinary School, Ithaca, NY, April 2011.

The killer whale (Orcinus orca) has proven to be among the most difficult of all species to hold adequately in zoological facilities. The killer whale is a particularly large-brained and long-lived species who evidences a high degree of social complexity in the wild. In an effort to assess the present state in captivity, the behavior and welfare of killer whales was measured against 6 standards originally articulated by Marion Stamp Dawkins. Although much has been learned about housing this species in recent decades, room for improvement can be recognized on all 6 measures. This analysis leads to a recommended framework for future orca facilities. It is suggested that they be much larger in size and that they incorporate many more elements of the natural environment than do present-day facilities. It is also important that they be designed in ways that allow for the complex social structures that are characteristic for this species in the wild. In the long view, movement toward shoreside facilities is envisioned in which interactions with semicaptive orcas can take place in ways that will better serve the welfare of these nonhuman animals while continuing to promote the education and conservation missions of modern zoological institutions.

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Call Types and Acoustic Features Associated with Aggressive Chase in the Killer Whale

Graham M. and Noonan M. Call Types and Acoustic Features Associated with Aggressive Chase in the Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) Aquatic Mammals, 2010, 36(1), 9-18.

Instances of aggressive chase over a 5-month period were investigated in captive killer whales (Orcinus orca). Such episodes were found to be quite rare, occurring only eight times in 1,872 h of observation. A consistent vocal pattern was found to be associated with agonistic episodes that differed markedly from the pattern recorded during non-aggressive, time-matched control periods. In general, vocalizations associated with aggressive chase were characterized by amplitude and frequency modulated pulses of approximately 190 ms in duration. In addition, three specific call types were found to occur only during chase events. As a whole, these particular call types and associated features are offered as an acoustic signature of agonism in the killer whale. It is hoped that these sounds might aid researchers in interpreting heretofore enigmatic killer whale vocalizations recorded from wild populations.

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The Acoustic Signature of Aggression in the Killer Whale: A Shift in Acoustic Features and Call Type

Graham, M. & Noonan. M. The Acoustic Signature of Aggression in the Killer Whale (Orcinus orca): A Shift in Acoustic Features and Call Type. Animal Behavior Society, Pirenopolis, Brazil, July 2009.

Agonistic interactions are among the most consequential of all social behaviors, and understanding them should be a high priority in any research program investigating the social dynamics of a species. In the underwater ecology inhabited by cetaceans, acoustics play essential roles, and may be expected to convey information about significant mood/motivational states such as aggression. Attempts to decode the functional significance of animal sounds often depend upon establishing correlations of those sounds with other ongoing behaviors seen by observers (Crockford & Boesch, 2003; Janik, V. & Slater, P., 1998). In cetaceans, this approach is particularly difficult because so much of their behavior occurs at depths where direct visual observation is not possible. Consequently, wildlife researchers studying these behaviors are often left with enigmatic sound recordings with little ability to link the vocalizations produced to ongoing social behavior.
Captivity provides unique opportunities to observe cetaceans under clear, well lit conditions, and thus affords opportunities to address questions which would be impossible in the wild.

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The Timing of Killer Whale Calls Is Not Random in a Social Context: Killer Whales Take Turns When Calling

Suchak, M. & Noonan, M. The timing of killer whale calls is not random in a social context: Killer whales take turns when calling. Animal Behavior Society, Snowbird, Utah, August, 2006.

Social animals need to have a way to maintain group coordination and cohesion. In the limited visibility that exists underwater, it is likely that vocalizations serve this function in the killer whale (Orcinus orca),. When vocalizing in this context, it is often necessary for individuals to both produce calls of their own and monitor those coming from others. The goal of this study was to assess whether the timing of calls indicates alternation between individuals in a way suggestive of a call-listen sequence.

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Echelon Swimming As a Means of Post-agonistic Reconciliation in Killer Whales

Noonan, M. & Giordano, C. Echelon swimming as a means of post-agonistic reconciliation in killer whales (Orcinus orca). Animal Behavior Society, Snowbird, Utah, August 2006.

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Mother-calf Distance During Adult Agonistic Interactions in Captive Killer Whales

Giordano, C. & Noonan, M. Mother-calf distance during adult agonistic interactions in captive killer whales (Orcinus orca). Animal Behavior Society, Snowbird, Utah, August, 2006.

Involvement in intra-specific aggression can be very costly to females if it increases the risk of separation from their offspring. This can be particularly true in species in which dependant offspring ordinarily accompany their mother closely throughout the day. We examined inter-whale distance in a captive population of killer whales in order to asses the extent to which a calf was separated from its mother during agonistic interactions between adults.

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Swimming Speed and Body Posture As a Function of Age in a Captive Neonatal Killer Whale

Suchak, M. & Noonan, M. Swimming speed and body posture as a function of age in a captive neonatal killer whale (Orcinus orca). Society for Marine Mammalogy, Vancouver, December 2005.

Learning about developmental landmarks of behavior is essential to understanding the natural history of a species. It was the goal of this project to assess age-related changes in the behavior of a single female killer whale born at Marineland of Canada.

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Visual Acuity in Two Species of Delphinid (Tursiops Truncatus and Orcinus Orca)

Noonan, M. Visual acuity in two species of delphinid (Tursiops truncatus and Orcinus orca): Above- vs below-water comparisons. Society for Marine Mammalogy, Vancouver, Dec, 2005.

It is clear that much cetacean behavior is visually guided. Yet, little is known about visual processes in these animals. In a series of experiments that utilized a two choice discrimination paradigm, two delphinid species were assessed for their ability to respond to visual stimuli that varied in location, size and distance.

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Gull Baiting in Captive Orcas: A Possible Instance of Cultural Transmission

Noonan, M. Gull Baiting in Captive Orcas: A Possible Instance of Cultural Transmission. Animal Behavior Society, Snowbird, Utah, August 2005.

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Anticipatory Movements Suggest Intentionality in Captive Orcas

Noonan, M., Jones, R. & Schamel, L. Anticipatory movements suggest intentionality in captive orcas. Consortium for Farming Trust, London, March, 2005.

The question of whether animals look ahead in time to events that have not yet transpired can arguably be addressed by instances in which their movements appear to anticipate as-yet-unrealized contingencies. We have identified five instances in the behaviour of captive killer whales that might speak to this issue. Our observations were made on captive orcas held at Marineland of Canada in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

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Long Term Stability and Individual Distinctiveness in Captive Orca Vocalizations

Noonan, M. & Suchak, M. Interwhale Distinctiveness and Long-Term Stability in Captive Orca Vocalizations. Acoustic Society of America, Vancouver, May 2005.

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Circadian Rhythmicity in Intraspecific Aggression in Captive Killer Whales

Noonan, M., Steigerwalt, T. & Schneider, L. Circadian Rhythmicity in Intraspecific Aggression in Captive Killer Whales. Society for Marine Mammalogy, Greensboro, North Carolina, Dec, 2003.

A more complete understanding of intraspecific aggression in killer whales would improve both our understanding of the social dynamics in that species and our ability to effectively manage them when they are held in captivity.

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Seasonal Variation in Rates of Vocalization in Captive Killer Whale

Schneider, L., Steigerwalt, T. & Noonan, M. Seasonal variation in rates of vocalization in captive killer whale (Orcinus orca) as a function of call type. Animal Behavior Society, Boise, Idaho, July, 2003.

The behaviors of many animal species are characterized by rhythmic patterns. Such patterns often inform questions pertaining to adaptive values and/or physiological processes which underlie the behaviors. The goal of this investigation was to look for evidence of seasonal and circadian periodicity in the vocalizations of the captive killer whale population under study at Marineland of Canada in an effort to shed light on their functional significance.

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Temporal Rates of Occurrence in Captive Orcinus Orca Vocalizations: Infradian, Circadian, And Ultradian Patterns.

Noonan, M., Steigerwalt, T., Chalupka, L., Schneider, L., Broder, J., Janas, A. & Kalenda, P. Temporal Rates of Occurrence in Captive Orcinus Orca Vocalizations: Infradian, Circadian, And Ultradian Patterns. European Cetacean Society, Gran Canaria (Canary Islands), March, 2003.

The behaviors of many animal species are characterized by rhythmic patterns. Such patterns often inform questions pertaining to adaptive advantages and/or physiological processes which underlie the timing of behavior. The goal of this investigation was to look for evidence of rhythmic periodicity in the vocalizations of the captive killer whale population under study at Marineland in Niagara Falls, Canada.

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Indices of Affiliation During Reunion of Family Members in Captive Orca Whales

Noonan, M., Chalupka, L., Conners, M., Pastwick, K., Viksjo, M. & Perri, D. Indices of affiliation during reunion of family members in captive orca whales. Animal Behavior Society, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, June 1999.

In the wild, killer whales live in family groups whose membership remains stable over long periods of time. It is widely assumed that the recognition of whales by each other, both as individuals and as family members, plays a large role in maintaining these groups. The means by which these bonds are established, and the duration over which they can be maintained during periods of separation, have yet to be explored.

This study took place at Marineland of Canada in Niagara Falls, Ontario. For husbandry reasons, two juvenile orcas were housed separately from their mothers over a two-year period. The goal of this project was to access the degree to which mother-offspring recognition occurred upon the reunion of these separated family members.

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Indices of Affiliation in Captive Orca Whales

Noonan, M., Conners, M., Viksjo, M., Pastwick, K., Gartz, D., Chalupka, L., Portner, J. & Perri, D. Indices of affiliation in captive orca whales. Animal Behavior Society, Carbondale, Illinois, July 1998.

When assemblages of free ranging whales have been studied, a heightened degree of attachment is inferred for animals which (a) characteristically maintain short distances between themselves and/or (b) characteristically rise to the surface and dive with near simultaneity (or show other evidence of behavior synchrony). In this project, we monitored both of these parameters in a group of four juvenile orca whales in an effort to ascertain whether stable patterns of affiliation could be revealed in the narrow confines of captivity.

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Call Element Changes in a Translocated Killer Whale: Evidence of Vocal Learning

Lange, E. & Noonan, M. Call Element Changes in a Translocated Killer Whale: Evidence of Vocal Learning. Animal Behavior Society, Pirenopolis, Brazil, July 2009.

In the wild, killer whales (Orcinus orca) characteristically display regional variations in the vocalizations that they produce. These regional differences have long been attributed to vocal learning. However, there has never been an opportunity to critically test that explanation with a definitive cross-fostering experiment. A unique occasion that approximated that ideal occurred when a single, captive-born, socially-reared, four-year-old, male killer whale was moved from SeaWorld in Orlando into a new social group at Marineland of Canada.

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