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Endangered Species Research

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ESR 13:117-121 (2011)  -  DOI:

Return movement of a humpback whale between the Antarctic Peninsula and American Samoa: a seasonal migration record

Jooke Robbins1,*, Luciano Dalla Rosa2,3,4, Judith M. Allen5, David K. Mattila6, Eduardo R. Secchi2,4, Ari S. Friedlaender7, Peter T. Stevick5, Douglas P. Nowacek7,8, Debbie Steel9

1Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, 5 Holway Avenue, Provincetown, Massachusetts 02657, USA
2Projeto Baleias/Brazilian Antarctic Program, Museu Oceanográfico ‘Prof. Eliézer C. Rios’, FURG, Rio Grande, RS 96200-970, Brazil
3Department of Zoology and Marine Mammal Research Unit, University of British Columbia, Room 247, AERL,
2202 Main Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada
4Laboratório de Tartarugas e Mamíferos Marinhos/Instituto de Oceanografia, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande-FURG, Cx.P. 474, Rio Grande, RS 96201-900, Brazil
5Antarctic Humpback Whale Catalog, Allied Whale, College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, Maine 04609, USA
6Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, 726 S. Kihei Road, Kihei, Hawaii 96753, USA
7Nicholas School of the Environment, and 8Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University Marine Laboratory,
135 Duke Marine Lab Rd., Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA
9Marine Mammal Institute, Oregon State University, 2030 SE Marine Science Drive, Newport, Oregon 97366, USA

ABSTRACT: Humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae are seasonal migrants that mate and calve at low latitudes and feed at mid- to high latitudes. Connections between most Southern Hemisphere breeding and feeding areas are not well understood, but are critical for assessing stock structure and human impacts. Photo-identification was performed to identify the feeding grounds of an Endangered sub-population that breeds in the central South Pacific Ocean (CSP). Identification photographs were obtained from 159 ind. at American Samoa and compared to 3508 Southern Hemisphere humpback whales in the Antarctic Humpback Whale Catalogue (AHWC), including 1352 from Antarctic feeding grounds. Two individuals from American Samoa were seen on 3 occasions at the Antarctic Peninsula. This is the first known feeding site for American Samoa and one of few reliably identified for the CSP. AHWC #2950 was confirmed to have undertaken a round-trip movement of no less than 18840 km, spanning 108 longitudinal degrees. This represents the largest mammalian migration known to date and a departure from historical assumptions about CSP migratory patterns. The frequency, causes, and fitness implications of such movements have yet to be determined. However, distance is the only known extrinsic barrier to humpback whale movement within oceans, and so maximum individual range is 1 factor potentially affecting population exchange and colonization of new habitats. The movement documented here may place this Endangered sub-population at risk if conservation efforts are relaxed in unidentified parts of its range. Yet, the ability of humpback whales to undertake such extensive movements may have also contributed to the apparent recovery of some populations versus other historically exploited whale species.

KEY WORDS: Migration · Humpback whale · Photo-ID · Spatial distribution · Conservation

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Cite this article as: Robbins J, Dalla Rosa L, Allen JM, Mattila DK and others (2011) Return movement of a humpback whale between the Antarctic Peninsula and American Samoa: a seasonal migration record. Endang Species Res 13:117-121.

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