ESR 29:201-209 (2016)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00712

Migrating humpback whales show no detectable response to whale alarms off Sydney, Australia

Vanessa Pirotta1,*, David Slip1,2, Ian D. Jonsen1, Victor M. Peddemors3, Douglas H. Cato4,5, Geoffrey Ross6, Robert Harcourt1

1Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia
2Taronga Conservation Society Australia, Bradley’s Head Road, Sydney, NSW 2088, Australia
3Fisheries NSW, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Sydney Institute of Marine Science, Chowder Bay Road, Sydney, NSW 2088, Australia
4Defence Science and Technology Group, Eveleigh, NSW 1430, Australia
5School of Geosciences, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
6NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service, Bridge Street, Sydney, NSW 1481, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Migratory Group V (Stock E1) humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae are at risk of entanglement with fishing gear as they migrate north and south along the east coast of Australia. This study investigated the effectiveness of 2 distinct tones for use as an alarm to acoustically alert whales to fishing gear presence and therefore reduce the chance of entanglement. We compared how whales responded in terms of changes of surface behaviour and changes in direction of travel in response to 2 acoustic tones and when there was no alarm. These 2 acoustic tones were a 5 kHz tone (5 s emission interval and 400 ms emission duration, similar to but higher frequency than the signal from a Future Oceans F3TM 3 kHz Whale Pinger®) and a 2-2.1 kHz swept tone (8 s emission interval and 1.5 s emission duration). A total of 108 tracks (focal follows) were collected using a theodolite at Cape Solander, Sydney, Australia, during the whales’ 2013 northern migration. Linear mixed effects models were used to determine the effect of the different acoustic tones on whale direction (heading), and behaviour (dive duration and speed). Whales showed no detectable response to either alarm. Whale direction and surfacing behaviour did not differ whether the alarm was ‘on’ or ‘off’. Although the response may have been different if the alarms were attached to fishing gear, the lack of measurable response suggests that the types of tones used are not likely to be effective in alarms intended to reduce entanglement of northward migrating Australian humpback whales.


KEY WORDS: Fisheries · Entanglement · Megaptera novaeangliae · Mortality · Bycatch · Acoustic deterrents


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Cite this article as: Pirotta V, Slip D, Jonsen ID, Peddemors VM, Cato DH, Ross G, Harcourt R (2016) Migrating humpback whales show no detectable response to whale alarms off Sydney, Australia. Endang Species Res 29:201-209. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00712

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