Seasonal migrations of North Atlantic minke whales: novel insights from large-scale passive acoustic monitoring networks
Background: Little is known about migration patterns and seasonal distribution away from coastal summer feeding habitats of many pelagic baleen whales. Recently, large-scale passive acoustic monitoring networks have become available to explore migration patterns and identify critical habitats of these species. North Atlantic minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) perform seasonal migrations between high latitude summer feeding and low latitude winter breeding grounds. While the distribution and abundance of the species has been studied across their summer range, data on migration and winter habitat are virtually missing. Acoustic recordings, from 16 different sites from across the North Atlantic, were analyzed to examine the seasonal and geographic variation in minke whale pulse train occurrence, infer information about migration routes and timing, and to identify possible winter habitats.
Results: Acoustic detections show that minke whales leave their winter grounds south of 30° N from March through early April. On their southward migration in autumn, minke whales leave waters north of 40° N from mid-October through early November. In the western North Atlantic spring migrants appear to track the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream along the continental shelf, while whales travel farther offshore in autumn. Abundant detections were found off the southeastern US and the Caribbean during winter. Minke whale pulse trains showed evidence of geographic variation, with longer pulse trains recorded south of 40° N. Very few pulse trains were recorded during summer in any of the datasets.
Conclusion: This study highlights the feasibility of using acoustic monitoring networks to explore migration patterns of pelagic marine mammals. Results confirm the presence of minke whales off the southeastern US and the Caribbean during winter months. The absence of pulse train detections during summer suggests either that minke whales switch their vocal behaviour at this time of year, are absent from available recording sites or that variation in signal structure influenced automated detection. Alternatively, if pulse trains are produced in a reproductive context by males, these data may indicate their absence from the selected recording sites. Evidence of geographic variation in pulse train duration suggests different behavioural functions or use of these calls at different latitudes.
Keywords: Passive acoustic monito
Denise Risch, Manuel Castellote, Christopher W. Clark, Genevieve E. Davis, Peter J. Dugan, Lynne EW. Hodge, Anurag Kumar, Klaus Lucke, David K Mellinger, Sharon L. Nieukirk, Cristian Marian Popescu, Christian Ramp, Andrew J. Read, Aaron N. Rice, Monica A. Silva, Ursula Siebert, Kathleen M. Stafford, Hans Verdaat and Sofie M. Van Parijs, 2014. Seasonal migrations of North Atlantic minke whales: novel insights from large-scale passive acoustic monitoring networks. Movement Ecology, 2:24
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