U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in MARINE MAMMAL SCIENCE, 26(1): 1–16 (January 2010).


This study’s objective was to investigate mandibular fractures in 50 short-finned pilot whales, Globicephala macrorhynchus, from two mass strandings. Based on current theories that this species is sexually dimorphic and polygynous, hypotheses were: (1) males should suffer more frequent or more substantial mandibular fractures than should females, and (2) fracture occurrence should increase with male reproductive maturity and potential correlates of maturity, such as age and length. Fractures were described and correlated with physical characteristics to infer possible explanations for injuries. Mandibular fractures were surprisingly common in males and females, being found in more than half of the animals examined (27/50, or 54% overall; 17/36 or 47% of females and 10/14 or 71% of males). Length was the only correlate of fracture presence; the proportion of animals showing evidence of fracture increased with length. These results offer some support to initial hypotheses, but there must be another set of consequences that contribute to mandibular fractures in females. A combination of intra- and interspecific interactions and life history characteristics may be responsible for fractures. Further research from a larger sample of this and other cetacean species are suggested to help elucidate both the causes and implications of mandibular fractures.