MEPS 402:269-284 (2010)  -  doi:10.3354/meps08423

Spatial associations between large baleen whales and their prey in West Greenland

Kristin L. Laidre1,2,*, Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen2, Patrick Heagerty3, Anthony Cossio4, Bo Bergström2, Malene Simon2,5

1Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, 1013 NE 40th Street, Seattle, Washington 98105, USA
2Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, Box 570, 3900 Nuuk, Greenland
3Department of Biostatistics, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA
4Southwest Fisheries Science Center, 3333 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, California, USA
5Department of Biological Sciences, University of Aarhus, C.F. Møllers Allé, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark

ABSTRACT: This study combined data on fin whale Balaenoptera physalus, humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae, minke whale B. acutorostrata, and sei whale B. borealis sightings from large-scale visual aerial and ship-based surveys (248 and 157 sightings, respectively) with synoptic acoustic sampling of krill Meganyctiphanes norvegica and Thysanoessa sp. abundance in September 2005 in West Greenland to examine the relationships between whales and their prey. Krill densities were obtained by converting relationships of volume backscattering strengths at multiple frequencies to a numerical density using an estimate of krill target strength. Krill data were vertically integrated in 25 m depth bins between 0 and 300 m to obtain water column biomass (g m–2) and translated to density surfaces using ordinary kriging. Standard regression models (Generalized Additive Modeling, GAM, and Generalized Linear Modeling, GLM) were developed to identify important explanatory variables relating the presence, absence, and density of large whales to the physical and biological environment and different survey platforms. Large baleen whales were concentrated in 3 focal areas: (1) the northern edge of Lille Hellefiske bank between 65 and 67°N, (2) north of Paamiut at 63°N, and (3) in South Greenland between 60 and 61°N. There was a bimodal pattern of mean krill density between depths, with one peak between 50 and 75 m (mean 0.75 g m–2, SD 2.74) and another between 225 and 275 m (mean 1.2 to 1.3 g m–2, SD 23 to19). Water column krill biomass was 3 times higher in South Greenland than at any other site along the coast. Total depth-integrated krill biomass was 1.3 × 109 (CV 0.11). Models indicated the most important parameter in predicting large baleen whale presence was integrated krill abundance, although this relationship was only significant for sightings obtained on the ship survey. This suggests that a high degree of spatio-temporal synchrony in observations is necessary for quantifying predator–prey relationships. Krill biomass was most predictive of whale presence at depths >150 m, suggesting a threshold depth below which it is energetically optimal for baleen whales to forage on krill in West Greenland.

KEY WORDS: Baleen whale · Capelin · Greenland · Krill · Nautical Area Scattering Coefficient · NASC · Optimal foraging · Survey

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Cite this article as: Laidre KL, Heide-Jørgensen MP, Heagerty P, Cossio A, Bergström B, Simon M (2010) Spatial associations between large baleen whales and their prey in West Greenland. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 402:269-284

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