Biology & Marine Biology

Faculty & Staff

D. Ann Pabst, Professor

photoKillam Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, 1991
Ph.D., Zoology, Duke University, Durham, NC, 1989
B.S., Zoology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, 1982
Dobo Hall 221 | (910) 962-7266 | 601 South College Road, Wilmington, NC 28403-5915

Our lab investigates how the mammalian body is functionally adapted to the marine environment. My students, colleagues and I have focused much of our work on musculoskeletal design and thermoregulatory function in cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises). We utilize stranded marine mammals in our research, and employ quantitative morphology techniques, image analysis, and new tools emerging from the field of biomechanics, to pose hypotheses about animal function. We then test these hypotheses, using non-invasive research methods, with wild and captive marine mammals at many sites around the world. The marriage of anatomical and physiological studies has permitted us to gain insight into the evolution of marine mammals by helping to elucidate those morphological features required to survive in the aquatic environment.

We, along with colleagues at North Carolina State University, Duke University Marine Lab, National Marine Fisheries Service, North Carolina Maritime Museum, North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, North Carolina Aquariums, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, National Park Service, and the Virginia Aquarium, are also working cooperatively to develop long-term, interdisciplinary studies of our local marine mammal species. The goal of these efforts is to better understand the biology of these species so as to ensure their conservation. Nowhere is there a more compelling need for such a program than in the mid-Atlantic, because our coastal waters are a critical habitat for a number of threatened or endangered cetacean species. Techniques we use include shore-based and aerial survey methods, as well as investigation of strandings, which are beached live or dead marine mammals. Please feel free to browse our Marine Mammal Stranding Program website.

Keenan-Bateman, T.F, McLellan W.A., Costidis, A.M., Harms, C.A., Gay, D.M., Rotstein, D.S., Rommel, S.A., Potter, C.W., and D. Ann Pabst. 2018. Pattern of habitat use of the giant parasitic nematode, Crassicauda magna, within its host, the pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps). Diseases of Aquatic Organisms. 127:163–175.

McLellan, W.A., McAlarney, R.J., Cumming, E.W., Read, A.J., Paxton, C.G.M., Bell, J.T., and D.A. Pabst. 2018. Distribution and Abundance of Beaked Whales (Family Ziphiidae) Off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, USA. Marine Mammal Science. DOI: 10.1111/mms.12500

Erwin, P.M., Rhodes, R.G., Kiser, K.B., Keenan-Bateman, T.F., McLellan, W.A., and D.A. Pabst. 2017. High diversity and unique composition of gut microbiomes in pygmy (Kogia breviceps) and dwarf (K. sima) sperm whales. Scientific Reports. 7: 7205 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-07425-z

Singleton, E.M., McLellan, W.A., Koopman, H.N., Pokorny Almeida, A., Scharf, F.S., and D.A. Pabst. 2017.  Lipid composition and thermal properties of the blubber of Gervais’ beaked whale (Mesoplodon europaeus) across ontogeny. Marine Mammal Science. DOI: 10.1111/mms.12389

Pabst, D.A., McLellan, W.A., and S.A. Rommel. 2016. How to build a deep diver: The extreme morphology of mesoplodonts.  Integrative and Comparative Biology. 56:1337-1348.

Roberts, J.J, Best, B.D, Mannocci, L. Fujioka, E., Halpin, P.N., Palka, D.L., Garrison, L.P., Mullin, K.D., Cole, T.V.N., Khan, C.B., McLellan, W.A., Pabst, D.A., and G.G. Lockhart. 2016 Habitat-based cetacean density models for the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Scientific Reports | 6:22615 | DOI: 10.1038/srep22615.

Keenan-Bateman, T.F., McLellan, W.A., Harms, C.A., Piscitelli, M.A., Barco, S.G., Thayer, V.G., Lovewell, G.N., Clark, K.L., Doshkov, P.K., Rotstein, D.S., Potter, C.W., and D.A. Pabst. 2016. Prevalence and anatomic site of Crassicauda sp. infection and its use in species identification in kogiid whales from the mid-Atlantic United States. Marine Mammal Science. 32(3): 868–883. DOI: 10.1111/mms.12300

Mallette, S. D., McLellan, W. A., Scharf, F. S., Koopman, H. N., Barco, S. G., Wells R. S., and D.A. Pabst. 2016.  Ontogenetic allometry and body composition of the common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) from the mid-Atlantic.  Marine Mammal Science. 32(1):86-121.

Lonati, G.L.., Westgate, A.J., Pabst, D.A. and Koopman, H.N. 2015. Nitrogen solubility in odontocete blubber and mandibular fats in relation to lipid composition. J. Experimental Biology. 218:2620-2630.

Arthur, L. H., McLellan, W.A., Piscitelli, M.A., Rommel, S.A., Woodward, B.L., Winn, J. P., Potter, C.W. and D. A. Pabst.  2015. Estimating maximal force output of cetaceans using axial locomotor muscle morphology. Marine Mammal Science. 31(4):1401–1426. 

Thornton, S.W., McLellan, W.A., Rommel, S.A., Dillaman, R.M., Nowacek, D.P., Koopman, H.N. and D.A. Pabst. 2015. Functional morphology of dorsal acoustic structures in pygmy (Kogia breviceps) and dwarf (K. sima) sperm whales. Anatomical Record. 298:1301–1326. DOI 10.1002/ar.23168

Read, A.J., Barco, S.B., Bell, J., Borchers, D.L., Burt, M.L., Cummings, E.W., Dunn, J., Fougeres, E.M., Hazen, L., Williams Hodge, L.E., Laura, A.M., McAlarney, R.J., Nilsson, P., Pabst, D.A., Paxton, C.G.M., Schneider, S.Z., Urian, K.W., Waples, D.M. and W.A. McLellan. 2014. Occurrence, distribution and abundance of cetaceans in Onslow Bay, North Carolina, USA. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management.14:23-35.

McLellan, W.A., Arthur, L. A., Mallette, S.D., Thornton, S.W., McAlarney, R.J., Read, A.J., and D.A. Pabst. 2014. Longline hook testing in the mouths of pelagic odontocetes. ICES Journal of Marine Science. doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsu181.

Balmer, B. C., R. S. Wells, L. H. Schwacke, J. H. Schwacke, B. Danielson, R. C. George, S. M. Lane, W. A. McLellan, D. A. Pabst, K. Sparks, T. R. Speakman, F. I. Townsend, and E. S. Zolman. 2014. Integrating multiple techniques to identify stock boundaries of common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. 24: 511-521

Cummings, E.W., Pabst, D.A., Blum, J.E., Barco, S.G., Davis, S.J., Thayer, V.G., Adimey, N., and W.A. McLellan. 2014. Spatial and temporal patterns of habitat use and mortality of the Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) in the Mid-Atlantic States of North Carolina and Virginia from 1991 to 2012. Aquatic Mammals. 40(2):126-138.

Staudinger, M.D., R. McAlarney, W. A. McLellan, and D.A. Pabst. 2014. Foraging ecology and niche segregation in pygmy (Kogia breviceps) and dwarf (Kogia sima) sperm whales from waters of the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast. Marine Mammal Science. 30(2): 626-655.

Velten, B.P., Dillaman, R. M., Kinsey, S. T., McLellan, W. A. and D. A. Pabst. 2013. Novel locomotor muscle design in extreme deep-diving whales. Journal of Experimental Biology. 216:1862-1871.

Kielhorn, C.E., Dillaman, R.M., Kinsey, S.T., McLellan, W.A., Gay, D.M., Dearolf, J.L. and D.A. Pabst. 2013. Locomotor muscle profile of a deep (Kogia breviceps) versus shallow (Tursiops truncatus) diving cetacean. Journal of Morphology. 274:663-675.

Bagge, L.E., Koopman, H. N., Rommel, S. A., McLellan, W. A., and D. A. Pabst. 2012. Lipid class and depth-specific thermal properties in the blubber of the short-finned pilot whale and the pygmy sperm whale. Journal of Experimental Biology. 215: 4330-4339.

Foley, H.J., Holt, R.C., Hardee, R.E., Nilsson, P.B., Jackson, K.A., Read, A.J., Pabst, D.A. and W.A. McLellan. 2011. Observations of a western North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) birth offshore of the protected Southeast U.S. critical habitat. Marine Mammal Science. 27(3): E234-E240.

Balmer, B. C., Wells, R. S., Schwacke, L. H., Rowles, T. K., Hunter, C., Zolman, E. S., Townsend, F. I., Danielson, B., Westgate, A. J., McLellan, W. A. and D. A. Pabst. 2011. Evaluation of a single-pin, satellite-linked transmitter deployed on bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) along the coast of Georgia, U.S.A. Aquatic Mammals 37:187-192.

Yordy, J.E., Pabst, D.A., McLellan, W.A., Wells, R.S., Rowles, T., and J. Kucklick. 2010. Tissue-specific distribution and whole body burden estimates of persistent organic pollutants in the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. 29(6):1263-1273.

Dunkin, R.C., McLellan, W.A., Blum, J. and D.A. Pabst. 2010. The buoyancy of the integument of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus): Effects of growth, reproduction and nutritional state. Marine Mammal Science. 26(3):573-587.

Barbieri, M.M., McLellan, W.A. Wells, R.S., Blum, J.E., Hofmann, S., Gannon, J. and D. A. Pabst. 2010. Using infrared thermography to assess seasonal trends in dorsal fin surface temperatures of free-swimming bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Sarasota Bay, FL, U.S.A. Marine Mammal Science. 26(1):53-66.

Piscitelli, M.A., McLellan, W.A., Rommel, S.A., Blum, J., Barco, S.G. and D.A. Pabst .2010. Lung size and thoracic morphology in shallow (Tursiops truncatus) and deep (Kogia spp.) diving cetaceans. Journal of Morphology. 269:1520-1538.