From Chilean Patagonia to Galapagos, Ecuador: novel insights on blue whale migratory pathways along the Eastern South Pacific
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From Chilean Patagonia to Galapagos, Ecuador: novel insights on blue whale migratory pathways along the Eastern South Pacific

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    Background: The most traditional scheme for migration among baleen whales comprises yearly migrations between productive waters at high latitude summer feeding grounds and warmer waters at lower latitudes where whales calve and mate, but rarely feed. Evidence indicates, however, that large departures from this scheme exist among populations and individuals. Furthermore, for some populations there is virtually no information on migratory pathways and destinations. Such is the case of Chilean blue whales throughout the Eastern South Pacific; hence, the goal of this study was to assess its migratory behavior. Methods: Dedicated marine surveys and satellite tagging efforts were undertaken during the austral summer and early autumn on blue whale feeding grounds off Chilean Northern Patagonia (CNP) during 2013, 2015 and 2016. Positional data derived from satellite tags regarding movement patterns and behavior were analyzed using Bayesian switching first-difference correlated random walk models. Results: We instrumented 10 CNP blue whales with satellite transmitters and documented individual variation in departure time, northbound migratory routes and potential wintering grounds. The onset of migration occurred from mid/late austral autumn to well into the austral winter. Blue whales moved in various directions, but ultimately converged toward a general NW movement direction along a wide corridor exceeding 2,000 km. Area-Restricted Search behavior was exhibited within fjords and channels of CNP and also South of Galapagos Archipelago (GA) and northern Peru, but never during migration. Interestingly, dive profiles for one whale that reached GA showed a sharp and consistent increase in depth north of 5 degrees S and extreme deep dives of up to 330 m. Discussion: Information derived from satellite tagged blue whales in this study is the first of its kind off the Eastern Southern Pacific. Our results provide valuable information on their migratory timing, routes and behavior on their northbound migration, particularly regarding the varied migratory plasticity for this particular population. Our results also highlight the first record of two complete migratory paths between CNP and GA and strengthen the hypothesis that GA waters correspond to a potential wintering destination for CNP blue whales. We further hypothesize that this area might be selected because of its biological productivity, which could provide feeding opportunities during the breeding season. Our results suggest that special efforts should be put forward to identify blue whale critical areas and understand key behavioral aspects in order to provide the basis for their conservation on a regional context (i.e., reducing potential ship strike and promote Marine Protected Area (MPA) implementation in Chile, Ecuador and Peru). Indeed, we suggest joint blue whale conservation efforts at the regional level in order to identify and determine potential threats and impacts and, most importantly, implement prospective management actions.
  • Source:
    PeerJ 6:e4695
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    CC BY
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