Shannon Gowans

Professor of Biology and Marine Science

Galbraith Marine Science Laboratory (GMSL) 106
727-864-8388Fax: 727-864-7964

Originally from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, I moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1989 to attend DalhousieUniversity, where I was accepted into a Ph.D. program in 1994 with Dr. Hal Whitehead. In 1996, I co-founded Blind Bay Cetacean Studies, an ongoing study of the cetaceans in the Halifax area. I completed my Ph.D. in 1999, and was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship at Texas A&M University at Galveston with Dr. Bernd Würsig from 2002 to 2004. I am currently a faculty member at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, where I run the Eckerd College Dolphin Project.

Professor Shannon Gowans

Courses Taught

Introduction to Marine Science, Biodiversity II – Zoology, Marine Mammalogy, Animal Behavior, Biological Oceanography, Marine Science Senior Seminar and Field Studies of Marine Mammals – New Zealand

Current Research

My primary research interest is the evolution of social organization in cetaceans in relation to foraging behavior, predation risk and ranging patterns. Additionally, I investigate the population structure and residency patterns of cetaceans as a correlate to social organization.

I am currently involved with two research projects, the Eckerd College Dolphin Project in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Blind Bay Cetacean Studies in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Eckerd College Dolphin Project

The Eckerd College Dolphin Project was started by Dr. John Reynolds III. I will be continuing to support this research and serve as its academic supervisor. The project uses the talents of Eckerd students in all aspects of the research. The main focus of the study is photographic identification of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Boca Ciega area near TampaBay in order to understand the biology of the animals.

For more information, please visit the Eckerd College Dolphin Project website.

Blind Bay Cetacean Studies

Blind Bay Cetacean Studies was established in 1996 by myself and Peter Simard. Field studies are carried out in the summer months near Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The main focus of my research is the investigation of the social and population structure of Atlantic white-sided and white-beaked dolphins (Lagenorhynchus acutus and L. albirostris). Both species are found in the same relatively shallow (~30m) coastal waters near Halifax, Nova ScotiaCanada; however, they are temporally separated. White-beaked dolphins are typically found in this area from April to early July in groups of 6-10 animals; Atlantic white-sided dolphins occur found from mid-July to September in groups of 20-100 animals. We suspect that they have different prey availability and preference patterns, but do not know the details. As a correlate to the social and population structure, we are studying the residency patterns of individuals to determine if they are long-term residents or short-term visitors, and as well investigating the life history patterns. This research was the subject of my postdoctoral fellowship at Texas A&M University at Galveston.

Other areas of research include photo-identification of other species (including fin and minke whales) and ecological and distribution related studies.

Previous Research

For my doctoral research at DalhousieUniversity (Halifax, Nova Scotia), I studied the differences in behavior and patterns of association between individual northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus), as well as differences between age and sex classes. This work took place in the Gully, a prominent submarine canyon off the east coast of Canada. In addition, I estimated the population size and residency patterns of bottlenose whales. In 2002, the Gully population was declared “Endangered” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), partially as a result of my research. Throughout my doctorate, I worked with conservation groups, oil and gas companies and government regulatory bodies to help establish the Gully as a marine protected area, the first in Atlantic Canada.

I have also been involved with sperm whale research in the Galapagos Islands and New Zealand. For my undergraduate thesis I studied the distribution of small odontocetes around the Gully.



Gowans, S. 1999. Social organization and population structure of northern bottlenose whales in the Gully. Ph.D. Dissertation. Dalhousie University, Halifax. Nova Scotia, Canada.

Gowans, S. 1994. Distribution and habitat partitioning of small odontocetes in the Gully, a submarine canyon on the Scotian Shelf. B.Sc. Honours Thesis. Dalhousie University, Halifax. Nova Scotia, Canada.

Peer Reviewed publications:

Coakes, A., S. Gowans, P. Simard, J. Girard, C. Vashro and R. Sears. 2005. Identities of fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) off the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. Marine Mammal Science 21:323-326.

Gowans, S, S. K. Hooker, and M. L. Dalebout. Accepted. Hyperoodon ampullatus. Mammalian Species.

Gowans, S. 2002. Bottlenose whales. Pages 128-129 in W. F. Perrin, B. Würsig and J. G. M. Thewissen, eds. Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. Academic Press, San Diego.

Gowans, S., and H. Whitehead. 2001. Photographic identification of northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus): sources of heterogeneity. Marine Mammal Science 17:76-93.

Gowans, S., H. Whitehead and S. K. Hooker. 2001. Social organization in northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus): not driven by deep water foraging? Animal Behaviour 62:369-377.

Gowans, S., M. L. Dalebout, S. K. Hooker and H. Whitehead. 2000. Reliability of photographic and molecular techniques for sexing northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus). Canadian Journal of Zoology 78:1224-1229.

Gowans, S., H. Whitehead, J. K. Arch and S. K. Hooker. 2000. Population size and residency patterns of northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus) using the Gully, Nova Scotia. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 2:201-210.

Gowans, S., and L. Rendell. 1999. Head-butting in northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus): A possible function for big heads. Marine Mammal Science 15:1342-1350.

Gowans, S., and H. Whitehead. 1995. Distribution and habitat partitioning by small odontocetes in the Gully, a submarine canyon on the Scotian Shelf. Canadian Journal of Zoology 73:1599-1608.

Hooker, S. K., H. Whitehead and S. Gowans. 2002. Ecosystem consideration in conservation planning: energy demand of foraging bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus) in a marine protected area. Biological Conservation 104:51-58.

Hooker, S. K., H. Whitehead, S. Gowans and R. W. Baird. 2002. Fluctuations in distribution and patterns of individual range use of northern bottlenose whales. Marine Ecology Progress Series 225:287-297.

Hooker, S. K., R. W. Baird, S. Al-Omari, S. Gowans and H. Whitehead. 2001. Behavioral reactions of northern bottlenose whales to biopsy and tagging procedures. Fishery Bulletin US 99:303-308.

Hooker, S. K., H. Whitehead and S. Gowans. 1999. Marine protected area design and the spatial and temporal distribution of cetaceans in a submarine canyon. Conservation Biology 13:592-602.

Simard, P., and S. Gowans 2004. Two calves in echelon: An example of alloparental association? Aquatic Mammals 30:330-334.

Whitehead, H., S. Gowans, A. Faucher and S. McCarrey. 1997. Population analysis of northern bottlenose whales in the Gully, Nova Scotia. Marine Mammal Science 13:173-185.

Whitehead, H., A. Faucher, S. Gowans and S. McCarrey. 1997. Status of the northern bottlenose whale, Hyperoodon ampullatus, in the Gully, Nova Scotia. Canadian Field Naturalist 111:287-292.


Gowans, S. and P. Simard. In Press. Update COSEWIC status report on Sowerby’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon bidens). Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa.

Whitehead, H., D. Bowen, S. Hooker and S. Gowans. 1998. Marine mammals of the Gully region. Pages 186-221 in W. G. Harrison and D. G. Fenton, eds. The Gully: a scientific review of its environment and ecosystem. Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canadian Stock Assessment Secretariat Research Document 98/83, Ottawa.

Supervised Theses:

Coakes, A. 2001. Photo-identification of fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) off the coast of Halifax in 1997. B.Sc. Honours Thesis. DalhousieUniversity, Halifax. Nova Scotia, Canada.

Eddy, J. 2001. Distribution of cetaceans in the St. Margaret’s Bay area, Nova Scotia from 1997-1999. B.Sc. Honours Thesis. DalhousieUniversity, Halifax. Nova Scotia, Canada.

Lake, J. 2003. Residency of minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) in Atlantic coastal waters of Nova Scotia. B.Sc. Honours Thesis. DalhousieUniversity, Halifax. Nova Scotia, Canada.