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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 592:267-281 (2018)  -  DOI:

Maternal body size and condition determine calf growth rates in southern right whales

Fredrik Christiansen1,2,*, Fabien Vivier1, Claire Charlton3, Rhianne Ward3, Alicia Amerson4, Stephen Burnell5, Lars Bejder1,6

1Cetacean Research Unit, School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6012, Australia
2Zoophysiology, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark
3Centre for Marine Science and Technology, Curtin University, Bentley, WA 6102, Australia
4Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA
5Eubalaena Pty Ltd, 25 Seaview Rd Adelaide, SA 5022, Australia
6Marine Mammal Research Program, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaii, Kaneohe, HI 96744, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The cost of reproduction is a key parameter determining a species’ life history strategy. Despite exhibiting some of the fastest offspring growth rates among mammals, the cost of reproduction in baleen whales is largely unknown since standard field metabolic techniques cannot be applied. We quantified the cost of reproduction for southern right whales Eubalaena australis over a 3 mo breeding season. We did this by determining the relationship between calf growth rate and maternal rate of loss in energy reserves, using repeated measurements of body volume obtained from unmanned aerial vehicle photogrammetry. We recorded 1118 body volume estimates from 40 female and calf pairs over 40 to 89 d. Calves grew at a rate of 3.2 cm d-1 (SD = 0.45) in body length and 0.081 m3 d-1 (SD = 0.011) in body volume, while females decreased in volume at a rate of 0.126 m3 d-1 (SD = 0.036). The average volume conversion efficiency from female to calf was 68% (SD = 16.91). Calf growth rate was positively related to the rate of loss in maternal body volume, suggesting that maternal volume loss is proportional to the energy investment into her calf. Maternal investment was determined by her body size and condition, with longer and more rotund females investing more volume into their calves compared to shorter and leaner females. Lactating females lost on average 25% of their initial body volume over the 3 mo breeding season. This study demonstrates the considerable energetic cost that females face during the lactation period, and highlights the importance of sufficient maternal energy reserves for reproduction in this capital breeding species.

KEY WORDS: Baleen whales · Bioenergetics · Body condition · Energy transfer · Lactation · Offspring growth · Photogrammetry · Unmanned aerial vehicles

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Cite this article as: Christiansen F, Vivier F, Charlton C, Ward R, Amerson A, Burnell S, Bejder L (2018) Maternal body size and condition determine calf growth rates in southern right whales. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 592:267-281.

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