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ESR 52:65-79 (2023)  -  DOI:

A trans-Pacific movement reveals regular migrations of humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae between Russia and Mexico

Nicola Ransome1,2,3,*, Astrid Frisch-Jordán4, Olga V. Titova5, Olga A. Filatova6, Marie C. Hill7, Ted Cheeseman8,9, Amanda L. Bradford10, Jorge Urbán R11, Pamela Martínez-Loustalot11, John Calambokidis12, Luis Medrano-González13, Alexander M. Burdin14, Ivan D. Fedutin6, Neil R. Loneragan2,3, Joshua N. Smith2,3

1La Orca de Sayulita, Sayulita, Nayarit 63728, México
2College of Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems, Harry Butler Institute, Murdoch University, Western Australia 6150, Australia
3School of Environmental and Conservation Sciences, College of Environmental and Life Sciences, Murdoch University, Murdoch, Western Australia 6150, Australia
4Ecología y Conservación de Ballenas, A.C., Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco 48325, México
5Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution RAS, Moscow 119071, Russia
6Department of Biology, University of Southern Denmark, Odense 5230, Denmark
7Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, Research Corporation of the University of Hawai‘i, Honolulu, Hawai‘i 96822, USA
8Marine Ecology Research Centre, Southern Cross University, Lismore, New South Wales 2480, Australia
9Happywhale, Santa Cruz, California 95060, USA
10Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, NMFS, NOAA, Honolulu, Hawai‘i 96818, USA
11Departamento de Ciencias Marinas y Costeras, Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur, La Paz, Baja California Sur 23080, México
12Cascadia Research, Olympia, Washington 98501, USA
13Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad de México 04510, México
14Kamchatka Branch of Pacific Institute of Geography FEB RAS, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky 68300, Russia
*Corresponding author:
Publisher: Inter-Research ·

ABSTRACT: Humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae undertake extensive annual migrations, have complex migratory patterns, and have held several mammalian long-distance movement records. Here, we report on a whale known to feed in the Russian Far East that was sighted in breeding areas on either side of the North Pacific, the Mariana Islands and Mexico, in less than 1 yr (357 d apart). This is the longest published distance (11261 km great-circle route) between 2 unique sightings of a photo-identified humpback whale to date. To understand the context of this movement, we investigated records of whales that had been sighted in Russian feeding areas and Mexican breeding areas using historic and newly available photo-identification data. We found 117 humpback whales documented in both countries between 1998 and 2021, revealing a substantial increase from the only 11 matches that were previously known. These whales exhibited high site fidelity to Mexico, with one-third seen in multiple years, and up to 10 yr. However, we also found that they changed breeding areas more frequently than Mexico whales matched to other feeding areas, illustrating how the Mariana Islands-Mexico movement may have occurred. We document the first complete round-trip migrations between Mexico and Russia, a journey of >16400 km, the longest known migration of Northern Hemisphere humpback whales. Our data demonstrate regular trans-Pacific movements of humpback whales in the North Pacific, highlighting the importance of Mexico for the species ocean-basin-wide and the need for effective local management to aid in the conservation of multiple at-risk distinct population segments.

KEY WORDS: Migratory animals · Migration patterns · Long-distance movements · Movement ecology · Endangered populations · Recovering populations · Population management

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Cite this article as: Ransome N, Frisch-Jordán A, Titova OV, Filatova OA and others (2023) A trans-Pacific movement reveals regular migrations of humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae between Russia and Mexico. Endang Species Res 52:65-79.

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