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ESR 43:495-515 (2020)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01096

A new blue whale song-type described for the Arabian Sea and Western Indian Ocean

Salvatore Cerchio1,2,3,*, Andrew Willson4, Emmanuelle C. Leroy5, Charles Muirhead2,6, Suaad Al Harthi7, Robert Baldwin4, Danielle Cholewiak8, Tim Collins9, Gianna Minton10, Tahina Rasoloarijao1,11, Tracey L. Rogers5, Maïa Sarrouf Willson7

1African Aquatic Conservation Fund, Chilmark, MA 02535, USA
2New England Aquarium, Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, Boston, MA 02110, USA
3Center for Coastal Studies, Provincetown, MA 02657, USA
4Five Oceans Environmental Services, Shatti al Qurm, Muscat PC131, Sultanate of Oman
5Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia
6Division of Marine Science and Conservation, Duke University Marine Laboratory, Beaufort, NC 28516, USA
7Environment Society of Oman, Ruwi PC112, Sultanate of Oman
8NOAA Fisheries, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Protected Species Branch, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA
9Wildlife Conservation Society, Ocean Giants Program, Bronx, NY 10460, USA
10Megaptera Marine Conservation, The Hague 2242 PT, Netherlands
11Institut Halieutique et des Sciences Marines, Toliara 601, Madagascar
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Blue whales Balaenoptera musculus in the Indian Ocean (IO) are currently thought to represent 2 or 3 subspecies (B. m. intermedia, B. m. brevicauda, B. m. indica), and believed to be structured into 4 populations, each with a diagnostic song-type. Here we describe a previously unreported song-type that implies the probable existence of a population that has been undetected or conflated with another population. The novel song-type was recorded off Oman in the northern IO/Arabian Sea, off the western Chagos Archipelago in the equatorial central IO, and off Madagascar in the southwestern IO. As this is the only blue whale song that has been identified in the western Arabian Sea, we label it the ‘Northwest Indian Ocean’ song-type to distinguish it from other regional song-types. Spatiotemporal variation suggested a distribution west of 70°E, with potential affinity for the northern IO/Arabian Sea, and only minor presence in the southwestern IO. Timing of presence off Oman suggested that intensive illegal Soviet whaling that took 1294 blue whales in the 1960s likely targeted this population, as opposed to the more widely distributed ‘Sri Lanka’ acoustic population as previously assumed. Based upon geographic distribution and potential aseasonal reproduction found in the Soviet catch data, we suggest that if there is a northern IO subspecies (B. m. indica), it is likely this population. Moreover, the potentially restricted range, intensive historic whaling, and the fact that the song-type has been previously undetected, suggests a small population that is in critical need of status assessment and conservation action.


KEY WORDS: Blue whale · Pygmy blue whale · Endangered population · Passive acoustics · Whale song · Arabian Sea · Western Indian Ocean


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Cite this article as: Cerchio S, Willson A, Leroy EC, Muirhead C and others (2020) A new blue whale song-type described for the Arabian Sea and Western Indian Ocean. Endang Species Res 43:495-515. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01096

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