Movements and behaviour of blue whales satellite tagged in an Australian upwelling system

Luciana Moller, Catherine Attard, Kerstin Bilgmann, Virginia Andrews-Goff, Ian Jonsen, David Paton, Michael Double

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Knowledge about the movement ecology of endangered species is needed to identify biologically important areas and the spatio-temporal scale of potential human impacts on species. Blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) are endangered due to twentieth century whaling and currently threatened by human activities. In Australia, they feed in the Great Southern Australian Coastal Upwelling System (GSACUS) during the austral summer. We investigate their movements, occupancy, behaviour, and environmental drivers to inform conservation management. Thirteen whales were satellite tagged, biopsy sampled and photo-identified in 2015. All were genetically confirmed to be of the pygmy subspecies (B. m. brevicauda). In the GSACUS, whales spent most of their time over the continental shelf and likely foraging in association with several seascape variables (sea surface temperature variability, depth, wind speed, sea surface height anomaly, and chlorophyll a). When whales left the region, they migrated west and then north along the Australian coast until they reached West Timor and Indonesia, where their movements indicated breeding or foraging behaviour. These results highlight the importance of the GSACUS as a foraging ground for pygmy blue whales inhabiting the eastern Indian Ocean and indicate the whales’ migratory route to proposed breeding grounds off Indonesia. Information about the spatio-temporal scale of potential human impacts can now be used to protect this little-known subspecies of blue whale.
Original languageEnglish
Article number21165
Number of pages19
JournalScientific Reports 
Volume10
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2020

Keywords

  • Movement ecology
  • Blue whales
  • Endangered species
  • Satellite tracking
  • satellite tagging
  • Great Southern Australian Coastal Upwelling System (GSACUS)

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