Indexed on: 26 Mar '17Published on: 22 Mar '17Published in: Marine Mammal Science
Fractals have been applied to describe the complexity of behavioral displays in a range of organisms. Recent work suggests that they may represent a promising tool in the quantification of subtle behavioral responses in marine mammals under chronic exposure to disturbance. This paper aims at introducing the still seldom used fractals to the broader community of marine mammal scientists. We first briefly rehearse some of the fundamental principles behind fractal theory and review the previous uses of fractals in marine mammal science. We subsequently introduce two methods that may be used to assess the complexity of marine mammal diving patterns, and we apply them to the temporal dynamics of the diving patterns of killer whales in the presence and absence of sea kayaks, the sequential behavior of harbor and gray seals in environments with distinct levels of anthropogenic influence, and southern right whales with and without calves. We discuss the ecological relevance of identifying fractal properties in marine mammal behavior, and the potential strength of the fractal behavioral parameters in comparison to more standard behavioral metrics. We finally briefly address the relevance fractal methods may have for the design and implementation of management and conservation strategies.