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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 313:295-304 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/meps313295

Satellite-monitored movements of humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae in the Southwest Atlantic Ocean

Alexandre N. Zerbini1,*, Artur Andriolo2, Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen3, José Luis Pizzorno4, Ygor G. Maia4, Glenn R. VanBlaricom1, Douglas P. DeMaster5, Paulo César Simões-Lopes6, Sérgio Moreira4, Cláudia Bethlem4

1Washington Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Box 355020, Seattle, Washington 98195-5020, USA
2Departamento de Zoologia, Instituto de Ciências Biológicas, Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais, Brazil
3Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, Box 570,3900 Nuuk, Greenland
4Projeto Monitoramento de Baleias por Satélite, R. Edgard Werneck 428/32, Rio de Janeiro 22763–010, Brazil
5Alaska Fisheries Science Center, NOAA Fisheries, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, Washington 98115, USA
6LAMAQ/ECZ, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, PO Box 5102, Florianópolis, Santa Catarina 88040-970, Brazil

ABSTRACT: Southern Hemisphere humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae migrate from wintering grounds in tropical latitudes to feeding areas in the Antarctic Ocean. It has been hypothesized that the population wintering off eastern South America migrates to feeding grounds near the Antarctic Peninsula (ca. 65°S, 60°W) and/or South Georgia (54°20’S, 36°40’W), but direct evidence to support this has never been presented. Between 19 and 28 October 2003, 11 humpback whales (7 females and 4 males) were instrumented with satellite transmitters off Brazil (ca. 18°30’S, 39°30’W) to investigate their movements and migratory destinations. Mean tracking time for the whales was 39.6 d (range = 5 to 205 d) and mean distance travelled was 1673 km per whale (range = 60 to 7258km). Movements on the wintering ground showed marked individual variation. Departure dates from the Brazilian coast ranged from late October to late December. Whales migrated south through oceanic waters at an average heading of 170° and travelled a relatively direct, linear path from wintering to feeding grounds. Two whales were tracked to feeding grounds in offshore areas near South Georgia and in the South Sandwich Islands (58°S, 26°W) after a 40 to 60 d long migration. Historical catches and current sighting information support these migratory routes and destinations. This study is the first to describe the movements of humpback whales in the western South Atlantic Ocean.

KEY WORDS: Megaptera novaeangliae · Migration · Satellite telemetry · Wintering grounds · Feeding grounds · South Atlantic Ocean · South Georgia · South Sandwich Islands

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