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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 493:275-289 (2013)  -  DOI:

Unexplained recurring high mortality of southern right whale Eubalaena australis calves at Penïnsula Valdïs, Argentina

Victoria J. Rowntree1,2,3,4,*, Marcela M. Uhart1,5, Mariano Sironi1,4, Andrea Chirife1, Matias Di Martino1, Luciano La Sala1, Luciana Musmeci1,6,7, Nadia Mohamed1, Julian Andrejuk1, Denise McAloose8, Juan Emilio Sala1,6, Alejandro Carribero9, Heather Rally10, Marcelo Franco11, Frederick R. Adler2, Robert. L. Brownell Jr.12, Jon Seger2, Teri Rowles13

1Southern Right Whale Health Monitoring Program, (1920) Puerto Madryn, Chubut, Argentina
2Department of Biology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA
3Whale Conservation Institute/Ocean Alliance, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01930, USA
4Instituto de Conservaciön de Ballenas, Ing.Maschwitz, (1623), Prov. De Buenos Aires, Argentina
5One Health Institute, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA
6CONICET, Centro Nacional Patagönico, Chubut, Argentina
7Fundacion Patagonia Natural, (9120), Puerto Madryn, Argentina
8Global Health Program, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, New York 10460, USA
9Ecocentro, (9120), Puerto Madryn, Chubut, Argentina
10Western University of Health Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Pomona, California 91766, USA
11Cuerpo de Guardafaunas, Subsecretarïa de Turismo y Äreas Protegidas, Rawson (9103) Chubut, Argentina
12Southwest Fisheries Center, NMFS, NOAA, Pacific Grove, California 93950, USA
13NMFS, Office of Protected Resources, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910, USA

ABSTRACT: Hundreds of southern right whale calves Eubalaena australis died on their calving ground at Penïnsula Valdïs, Argentina from 2003 through 2011. During this period, the number of dead calves increased at a much greater rate than that of living calves over the preceding 32 yr, and with greater inter-annual variation. High mortality events occurred late in the calving seasons of 2005 and 2007, early in the seasons of 2008 and 2009, and were equally divided between early and late in 2010 and 2011. Calves that died late in the seasons of 2005 and 2007 were at least a meter longer (mean 7.3 m) than newborns, indicating that they had grown and presumably were healthy before dying. An unusual number of large calves (>6 m) died early in the seasons of 2008 and 2009, suggesting that a population-wide process (e.g. nutritional stress) affected many mothers including older, larger mothers that tend to give birth to larger calves early in the season. Many tissue samples have been collected and analyzed, but no consistent lesions, pathologic processes or elevated levels of algal biotoxins have been identified to explain these recent mortality events. Here, we document the high mortality events, place them in historical context and describe ongoing efforts to identify their causes. As of 2010, the southern right whale sub-population that calves off Penïnsula Valdïs was estimated to be less than 20% of its initial size before whaling; the ongoing high mortality of calves will significantly affect its recovery.

KEY WORDS: Right whale · Mortality · Eubalaena australis · Strandings · Patagonia

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Cite this article as: Rowntree VJ, Uhart MM, Sironi M, Chirife A and others (2013) Unexplained recurring high mortality of southern right whale Eubalaena australis calves at Penïnsula Valdïs, Argentina. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 493:275-289.

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