MEPS 464:289-306 (2012)  -  doi:10.3354/meps09810

Potential feeding habitat of fin whales in the western Mediterranean Sea: an environmental niche model

Jean-Noël Druon1,*, Simone Panigada2, Léa David3, Alexandre Gannier4, Pascal Mayol5, Antonella Arcangeli6, Ana Cañadas7,10, Sophie Laran8, Nathalie Di Méglio3, Pauline Gauffier9

1Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, Maritime Affairs Unit, Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen, Via Fermi, TP 051, 21027 Ispra (VA), Italy
2Tethys Research Institute, c/o Acquario Civico, Viale G.B. Gadio 2, 20121 Milan, Italy
3écoOcéan Institut, 18 rue des Hospices, 34090 Montpellier, France
4Groupe de REcherche sur les Cétacés (GREC), BP 715, 06633 Antibes cedex, France
5Souffleurs d’Ecume, Hôtel de Ville, 83470 La Celle, France
6Istituto Superiore per la Protezione e la Ricerca Ambientale (ISPRA), Via Vitaliano Brancati, 48, 00144 Rome, Italy
7ALNITAK, C/ Nalón 16, La Berzosa, 28240 Hoyo de Manzanares, Madrid, Spain
8Centre de Recherche sur les Mammifères Marins, UMS 3462, Université de La Rochelle/CNRS, 17000 La Rochelle, France
9Circé, Cabeza de Manzaneda, 3, 11390 Pelayo, Algeciras, Spain
10Present address: ALNILAM Research and Conservation, Cándamo 116, 28240 Hoyo de Manzanares, Madrid, Spain

ABSTRACT: The development of synoptic tools is required to derive the potential habitat of fin whales Balaenoptera physalus on a large-scale basis in the Mediterranean Sea, as the species has a largely unknown distribution and is at high risk of ship strike. We propose a foraging habitat model for fin whales in the western Mediterranean Sea relying on species ecology for the choice of predictors. The selected environmental variables are direct predictors and resource predictors available at daily and basin scales. Feeding habitat was determined mainly from the simultaneous occurrence of large oceanic fronts of satellite-derived sea-surface chlorophyll content (chl a) and temperature (SST). A specific range of surface chl a content (0.11 to 0.39 mg m−3) and a minimum water depth (92 m) were also identified to be important regional criteria. Daily maps were calibrated and evaluated against independent sets of fin whale sightings (presence data only). Specific chl a fronts represented the main predictor of feeding environment; therefore, derived habitat is a potential, rather than effective, habitat, but is functionally linked to a proxy of its resource (chl a production of fronts). The model performs well, with 80% of the presence data <9.7 km from the predicted potential habitat. The computed monthly, seasonal and annual maps of potential feeding habitat from 2000 to 2010 correlate, for the most part, with current knowledge on fin whale ecology. Overall, fin whale potential habitat occurs frequently during summer in dynamic areas of the general circulation, and is substantially more spread over the basin in winter. However, the results also displayed high year-to-year variations (40 to 50%), which are essential to consider when assessing migration patterns and recommending protection and conservation measures.

KEY WORDS: Balaenoptera physalus · Potential habitat · Feeding · Mediterranean Sea · Satellite data · Fronts · Chlorophyll a · Environmental niche model

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Cite this article as: Druon JN, Panigada S, David L, Gannier A and others (2012) Potential feeding habitat of fin whales in the western Mediterranean Sea: an environmental niche model. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 464:289-306

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