Subject: Headbutting in cetaceans (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Wed, 18 Nov 1998 22:12:48 -0500 (EST)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 18 Nov 1998 13:52:20 +0000
Reply-To: Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion
Subject: Headbutting in cetaceans

Headbutting in cetaceans

Here is a summary of the responses I received in response to my
request, related to an observation of 2 male northern bottlenose
whales headbutting each other.  Thanks again to everyone who
responded.  Please contact me if you have any more accounts or would
like more information.

Shannon Gowans

Humpback whales
There are several references describing aggressive interactions among
humpback whales in competitive groups.  Individuals do crash heads and
head-charge although other aggressive behaviors are also involved.

Baker and Herman 1984. Can. J. Zool. 62: 1992-1937
Baker and Herman 1984. Cetus 5: 14-16
Clapham et al. 1992. Behaviour. 122: 182-194
Tyack and Whitehead. 1983 Behaviour 83: 1-23

Killer whales

Male resident killer whales in BC went through a bit of a 'fad' of
headbutting in the mid 1980's which is described in Naomi Rose's
thesis.  This behaviour has not been seen since, or elsewhere in the
wild.  There is mention of the behaviour in captive killer whales as

Rose, N. 1992. The social dynamics of male killer whales, Orcinus
orca, in Johnstone strait, British Columbia.  Ph.D. thesis. University
of California, Santa Cruz. Martinez, DR and Klinhammer, E. 1978. A
partial ethogram of the killer whale (Orcinus orca L) Carnivore


Sylverman, HB 1979. Social organization and behaviour of the narwhal
(Monodon monocerus) in Lancaster Sound, Pond Inlet and Trembley sound,
NWT.  MSc thesis. McGill University, Montreal

Spotted and bottlenose dolphins

Male spotted and bottlenose dolphins engage in aggressive head to head
confrontations that sometimes end in head on collisions.

Herzing, DL and Johnson, CM. 1997. Interspecific interactions between
Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) and bottlenose dolphins
(Tursiops truncatus) in the Bahamas, 1985-1995.  Aquatic Mammals 23:

Herzing, DL. 1996. Vocalizations and associated underwater behavior of
free-ranging Atlantic spotted dolphins, Stenella frontalis and
bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus.  Aquatic Mammals 22: 61-79

Pilot and sperm whales

I also received anecdotal accounts of head butting in sperm and pilot

Shannon Gowans
PhD candidate
Biology Department, Dalhousie University
Halifax NS, B3H 4J1