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ESR 14:217-225 (2011)  -  DOI:

Using movements, genetics and trophic ecology to differentiate inshore from offshore aggregations of humpback whales in the Gulf of Alaska

Briana H. Witteveen1,*, Jan M. Straley2, Ellen Chenoweth2, C. Scott Baker3, Jay Barlow4, Craig Matkin5, Christine M. Gabriele6, Janet Neilson6, Debbie Steel3, Olga von Ziegesar7, Alexander G. Andrews8, Amy Hirons

1University of Alaska Fairbanks, Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program, Kodiak, 118 Trident Way, Kodiak, Alaska 99615, USA
2University of Alaska Southeast, Sitka Campus, 1332 Seward Avenue, Sitka, Alaska 99835, USA
3Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon State University, 2030 SE Marine Science Drive, Newport, Oregon 97365-5229, USA
4Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, 3333 North Torrey Pines Court, La Jolla, California 92037-1022, USA
5North Gulf Oceanic Society, PO Box 15244, Homer, Alaska 99603, USA
6Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, PO Box 140, Gustavus, Alaska 99826, USA
7Eye of the Whale, PO Box 15191, Fritz Creek, Alaska 99603, USA
8NOAA Fisheries Auke Bay Laboratories, 17109 Lena Point Loop Road, Juneau, Alaska 99801, USA
9Nova Southeastern University, 8000 North Ocean Drive, Dania Beach, Florida 33004-3078, USA

ABSTRACT: Humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae have been studied in the coastal waters of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) since the late 1960s, but information about whales foraging offshore is limited. A large-scale collaborative project (SPLASH) provided opportunities to study humpback whales in both inshore and offshore habitats. Using identification photographs and biopsy samples, we explored individual movements, the distribution of mitochondrial (mtDNA) haplotypes, and trophic levels for humpback whales within 3 regions (Kodiak, KOD; Prince William Sound, PWS; and southeastern Alaska, SEAK) of the GOA to determine whether inshore and offshore aggregations of humpback whales are distinct. Each region was divided into inshore and offshore habitats, creating 6 subregions for comparison. Results documenting 2136 individual whales showed that movement within the study area was most frequent between inshore and offshore subregions within a region. In general, movement between regions was minimal. Tissue samples of 483 humpback whales included 15 mtDNA haplotypes. Pairwise chi-squared tests showed haplotype differences between subregions, but inshore PWS was the only subregion with a haplotype composition significantly different than all other subregions. Trophic levels, as inferred from stable nitrogen isotope ratios, were significantly different among subregions, ranging from 3.4 to 4.5. Pairwise comparisons showed that inshore PWS was again the only subregion that significantly differed from all others. Results suggest that the combined inshore and offshore habitats for KOD and the inshore and offshore habitats for SEAK should each be considered as single regional feeding aggregations, while inshore PWS may represent a separate aggregation from PWS offshore.

KEY WORDS: Humpback whale . Megaptera novaeangliae . Gulf of Alaska . mtDNA . Haplotype . Trophic level . Movement

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Cite this article as: Witteveen BH, Straley JM, Chenoweth E, Baker CS and others (2011) Using movements, genetics and trophic ecology to differentiate inshore from offshore aggregations of humpback whales in the Gulf of Alaska. Endang Species Res 14:217-225.

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