Humpback whale migrations to Antarctic summer foraging grounds through the southwest Pacific Ocean
Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) populations typically undertake seasonal migrations, spending winters in low latitude breeding grounds and summers foraging in high latitude feeding grounds. Until recently, a broad scale understanding of whale movement has been derived from whaling records, Discovery marks, photo identification and genetic analyses. However, with advances in satellite tagging technology and concurrent development of analytical methodologies we can now detail finer scale humpback whale movement, infer behavioural context and examine how these animals interact with their physical environment. Here we describe the temporal and spatial characteristics of migration along the east Australian seaboard and into the Southern Ocean by 30 humpback whales satellite tagged over three consecutive austral summers. We characterise the putative Antarctic feeding grounds and identify supplemental foraging within temperate, migratory corridors. We demonstrate that Antarctic foraging habitat is associated with the marginal ice zone, with key predictors of inferred foraging behaviour including distance from the ice edge, ice melt rate and variability in ice concentration two months prior to arrival. We discuss the highly variable ice season within the putative foraging habitat and the implications that this and other environmental factors may have on the continued strong recovery of this humpback whale population.
Australian Research Council
Publication titleScientific Reports
Department/SchoolInstitute for Marine and Antarctic Studies
PublisherNature Publishing Group
Place of publicationUnited Kingdom
Rights statementCopyright 2018 The Authors. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/