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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 440:267-279 (2011)  -  DOI:

Timing of migratory baleen whales at the Azores in relation to the North Atlantic spring bloom

Fleur Visser1,2,3,*, Karin L. Hartman2,4, Graham J. Pierce5,6, Vasilis D. Valavanis7, Jef Huisman1

1Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, 1090 GE Amsterdam, The Netherlands
2Nova Atlantis Foundation, 9930-309 Santa Cruz das Ribeiras, Lajes do Pico, Pico, Azores, Portugal
3Kelp Marine Research, 1624 CJ Hoorn, The Netherlands
4Department of Marine Biology, University of Azores, 9501-801 Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal
5Instituto Español de Oceanografía, Centro Oceanográfico de Vigo, 36200 Vigo, Spain
6Oceanlab, University of Aberdeen, Newburgh, Aberdeenshire, AB41 6AA, UK
7Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, Institute of Marine Biological Resources, Marine GIS Lab, 71003 Iraklion, Crete, Greece

ABSTRACT: Each year, a phytoplankton spring bloom starts just north of the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre, and then expands northwards across the entire North Atlantic. Here, we investigate whether the timing of the spring migration of baleen whales is related to the timing of the phytoplankton spring bloom, using 4 yr of dedicated whale observations at the Azores in combination with satellite data on ocean chlorophyll concentration. Peak abundances of blue whale Balaenoptera musculus, fin whale B. physalus, humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae and sei whale B. borealis were recorded in April–May. The timing of their presence tracked the onset of the spring bloom with mean time lags of 13, 15, 15 and 16 wk, respectively, and was more strongly related to the onset of the spring bloom than to the actual time of year. Baleen whales were actively feeding on northern krill Meganyctiphanes norvegica in the area, and some photo-identified individuals stayed in Azorean waters for at least 17 d. Baleen whales were not observed in this area in autumn, during their southward migration, consistent with low chlorophyll concentrations during summer and autumn. Our results support the hypothesis that baleen whales track the secondary production generated by the North Atlantic spring bloom, utilizing mid-latitude areas such as the Azores as foraging areas en route towards their summer feeding grounds.

KEY WORDS: Baleen whales · Balaenopteridae · Phytoplankton spring bloom · Whale migration · Feeding area · Satellite remote sensing · North Atlantic Ocean · Azores

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Cite this article as: Visser F, Hartman KL, Pierce GJ, Valavanis VD, Huisman J (2011) Timing of migratory baleen whales at the Azores in relation to the North Atlantic spring bloom. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 440:267-279.

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