MEPS 478:253-272 (2013)  -  doi:10.3354/meps10000

Energetic requirements of North Atlantic right whales and the implications for species recovery

Sarah M. E. Fortune1,*, Andrew W. Trites1, Charles A. Mayo2, David A. S. Rosen1, Philip K. Hamilton3

1Department of Zoology and Marine Mammal Research Unit, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada
2North Atlantic Right Whale Habitat Studies Program, Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, Provincetown, Massachusetts 02657, USA
3Edgerton Research Laboratory, New England Aquarium, Boston, Massachusetts 02110-3399, USA

ABSTRACT: Management plans for North Atlantic right whales Eubalaena glacialis focus on preventing mortality from ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement. However, recovery may also be limited because individuals are under nutritional stress. We quantified the food requirements of North Atlantic right whales by age, sex and reproductive state and compared their predicted needs with field estimates of prey consumption to assess whether any demographic group of right whales might be nutritionally stressed. Energy requirements were estimated using a bioenergetics model that accounted for uncertainty in energy inputs and outputs. Consumption was estimated with prey samples taken near feeding whales in Cape Cod Bay (n = 28 net collections) and the Bay of Fundy (n = 19 optical plankton recordings). We found that calves required the least energy (~1767 MJ d-1) and that lactating females required the most (~4120 MJ d-1). Juveniles required considerably more energy than adult males and non-reproductive females. Our estimates of energy requirements for juveniles (~1906 MJ d-1), adult males (~1793 MJ d-1), and non-reproductive females (~2104 MJ d-1) compared favorably with estimates of actual consumption in Cape Cod Bay and the Bay of Fundy (i.e. they differed by ≤15%), suggesting that our model was reliable. However, lactating females appear to have obtained considerably less than their predicted energy requirements in both habitats. These findings suggest that lactating females may be experiencing an energy deficit, which may affect reproductive rates and slow population recovery. Nutritional stress may thus be limiting the recovery of North Atlantic right whales.


KEY WORDS: Bioenergetic model · Eubalaena glacialis · Nutritional stress · Energetic consumption · Calving rate · Reproductive interval


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Cite this article as: Fortune SME, Trites AW, Mayo CA, Rosen DAS, Hamilton PK (2013) Energetic requirements of North Atlantic right whales and the implications for species recovery. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 478:253-272

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