ESR 26:257-269 (2015)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00642

Validating the reliability of passive acoustic localisation: a novel method for encountering rare and remote Antarctic blue whales

Brian S. Miller1,*, Jay Barlow2, Susannah Calderan1, Kym Collins1, Russell Leaper3, Paula Olson2, Paul Ensor1, David Peel4, David Donnelly5, Virginia Andrews-Goff1, Carlos Olavarria1, Kylie Owen6, Melinda Rekdahl1, Natalie Schmitt1, Victoria Wadley1, Jason Gedamke7, Nick Gales1, Michael C. Double

1Australian Marine Mammal Centre, Australian Antarctic Division, Hobart, TAS 7050, Australia
2Southwest Fisheries Science Center NMFS/NOAA, 8901 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA
3School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Tillydrone Avenue, Aberdeen AB24 2TZ, UK
4CSIRO Computational Informatics, and Wealth from Oceans National Research Flagship, Castray Esplanade, Hobart, TAS 7000, Australia
5Australian Orca Database, Melbourne, VIC 3128, Australia
6Cetacean Ecology and Acoustics Laboratory, School of Veterinary Science, The University of Queensland, Gatton, QLD 4343, Australia
7Ocean Acoustics Program, NOAA Fisheries Office of Science & Technology, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Silver Spring, MD 20910, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Since its near extirpation during the period of industrial whaling in the early and mid 20th century, the once common Antarctic blue whale Balaenoptera musculus intermedia remains extremely rare. While annual systematic surveys around Antarctica from 1978 to 2009 recorded only 216 visual encounters of this species, their loud and distinctive calls were detected frequently throughout the Southern Ocean. We describe and assess a new method for locating these whales by acoustically detecting their vocalisations, tracking the location of their calls, and finally locating the whales visually. This methodology was employed during an Antarctic research voyage from 140°E to 170°W, between January and March 2013. The loudest song unit (a 26 Hz tone) was detected at all 298 recording sites south of 52°S. Acoustically derived bearings from these whales enabled visual observers to eventually sight the whales, often hundreds of kilometres from initial acoustic detections. Received sound pressure levels of detections increased with decreasing range to several hotspots where both song and non-song calls were detected. Within hotspots, short-range acoustic localisation yielded 33 visual encounters of Antarctic blue whales (group size: 1 to 5 whales) over a 31 d period south of 60°S. These results demonstrate that acoustic tracking provides the capacity to locate Antarctic blue whales widely dispersed over many hundreds of kilometres, as well as the capacity to acoustically track individual whales for days at a time irrespective of most weather conditions. Thus, passive acoustic localisation is a reliable and efficient method to track Antarctic blue whales, and this technique should be considered for future studies of these iconic animals.


KEY WORDS: Blue whale · Passive acoustics · Tracking


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Cite this article as: Miller BS, Barlow J, Calderan S, Collins K and others (2015) Validating the reliability of passive acoustic localisation: a novel method for encountering rare and remote Antarctic blue whales. Endang Species Res 26:257-269. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00642

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