Continuous movement behavior of humpback whales during the breeding season in the southwest Indian Ocean : on the road again!
Zerbini, Alexandre N.
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KeywordHumpback whales; Satellite tracking; Reunion; Indian Ocean; Breeding behavior; Movement pattern
Humpback whales are known to undertake long-distance migration between feeding and breeding sites, but their movement behavior within their breeding range is still poorly known. Satellite telemetry was used to investigate movement of humpback whales during the breeding season and provide further understanding of the breeding ecology and sub-population connectivity within the southwest Indian Ocean (SWIO). Implantable Argos satellite tags were deployed on 15 whales (7 males and 6 females) during the peak of the breeding season in Reunion Island. A switching-state-space model was applied to the telemetry data, in order to discriminate between “transiting” and “localized” movements, the latter of which relates to meandering behavior within putative breeding habitats, and a kernel density analysis was used to assess the spatial scale of the main putative breeding sites. Whales were tracked for up to 71 days from 31/07/2013 to 16/10/2013. The mean transmission duration was 25.7 days and the mean distance travelled was 2125.8 km. The tracks showed consistent movement of whales from Reunion to Madagascar, demonstrating a high level of connectivity between the two sub-regions, and the use of yet unknown breeding sites such as underwater seamounts (La Perouse) and banks (Mascarene Plateau). A localized movement pattern occurred in distinct bouts along the tracks, suggesting that whales were involved in breeding activity for 4.3 consecutive days on average, after which they resume transiting for an average of 6.6 days. Males visited several breeding sites within the SWIO, suggesting for the first time a movement strategy at a basin scale to maximize mating. Unexpectedly, females with calf also showed extensive transiting movement, while they engaged in localized behavior mainly off Reunion and Sainte-Marie (East Madagascar). The results indicated that whales from Reunion do not represent a discrete population. Discrete breeding sites were identified, thereby highlighting priority areas for conservation. The study is a first attempt to quantify movement of humpback whales within the southwestern Indian Ocean breeding range. We demonstrate a wandering behavior with stopovers at areas that likely represent key breeding habitat, a strategy which may enhance likelihood of individual reproductive success.
© The Author(s), 2017. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. The definitive version was published in Movement Ecology 5 (2017): 11, doi:10.1186/s40462-017-0101-5.
Suggested CitationMovement Ecology 5 (2017): 11
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