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ESR 30:239-253 (2016)  -  DOI:

Spatio-temporal patterns in acoustic presence and distribution of Antarctic blue whales Balaenoptera musculus intermedia in the Weddell Sea

Karolin Thomisch1,*, Olaf Boebel1, Christopher W. Clark2, Wilhelm Hagen3, Stefanie Spiesecke1, Daniel P. Zitterbart1,4,5, Ilse Van Opzeeland1

1Ocean Acoustics Lab, Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung, 27570 Bremerhaven, Germany
2Bioacoustics Research Program, Cornell University, 159 Sapsucker Woods Road, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA
3BreMarE—Bremen Marine Ecology, Marine Zoology, University of Bremen, PO Box 330440, Bremen, Germany
4Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA
5Biophysics Lab, Department of Physics, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, PO Box 3520, 91054 Erlangen, Germany
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Distribution and movement patterns of Antarctic blue whales Balaenoptera musculus intermedia at large temporal and spatial scales are still poorly understood. The objective of this study was to explore spatio-temporal distribution patterns of Antarctic blue whales in the Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean, using passive acoustic monitoring data. Multi-year data were collected between 2008 and 2013 by 11 recorders deployed in the Weddell Sea and along the Greenwich meridian. Antarctic blue whale Z-calls were detected via spectrogram cross-correlation. A Blue Whale Index was developed to quantify the proportion of time during which acoustic energy from Antarctic blue whales dominated over background noise. Our results show that Antarctic blue whales were acoustically present year-round, with most call detections between January and April. During austral summer, the number of detected calls peaked synchronously throughout the study area in most years, and hence, no directed meridional movement pattern was detectable. During austral winter, vocalizations were recorded at latitudes as high as 69°S, with sea ice cover exceeding 90%, suggesting that some Antarctic blue whales overwinter in Antarctic waters. Polynyas likely serve as an important habitat for baleen whales during austral winter, providing food and reliable access to open water for breathing. Overall, our results support increasing evidence of a complex and non-obligatory migratory behavior of Antarctic blue whales, potentially involving temporally and spatially dynamic migration routes and destinations, as well as variable timing of migration to and from the feeding grounds.

KEY WORDS: Passive acoustic monitoring · Antarctic blue whale · Balaenoptera musculus intermedia · Baleen whale migration · Southern Ocean

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Cite this article as: Thomisch K, Boebel O, Clark CW, Hagen W, Spiesecke S, Zitterbart DP, Van Opzeeland I (2016) Spatio-temporal patterns in acoustic presence and distribution of Antarctic blue whales Balaenoptera musculus intermedia in the Weddell Sea. Endang Species Res 30:239-253.

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