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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 643:219-227 (2020)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13329

Reproductive capacity of an endangered and recovering population of humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere

Guillaume Chero1,2,3,4,*, Roger Pradel2, Solène Derville1,3, Claire Bonneville1,3, Olivier Gimenez2, Claire Garrigue1,3

1UMR Entropie (IRD, Université de La Réunion, CNRS), BP A5, 98848 Nouméa, New Caledonia
2CEFE, CNRS, Université Montpellier, Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3, EPHE, IRD, 34293 Montpellier, Cedex 5, France
3Opération Cétacés, BP 12827, 98802 Nouméa, New Caledonia
4Department of Ecological Dynamics, Leibniz-Institut for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), Alfred-Kowalke-St. 17, Berlin 10315, Germany
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Estimating demographic parameters is essential to assessing the recovery potential of severely depleted populations of marine mammal species such as the baleen whales, which were decimated by commercial whaling of the past century. The Oceania humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae population is classified as endangered by the IUCN because of low numbers and a slow recovery rate. Nevertheless, an anomalously strong increase has recently been detected in the New Caledonia breeding population. To determine the drivers of population growth, reproductive parameters were estimated for the first time for a humpback whale population of Oceania. Based on an extensive monitoring program (1995-2018), recapture histories were reconstructed for 607 females and incorporated in multi-event capture-recapture models. As the females’ ages were generally unknown (87%), 2 models with contrasting age scenarios were investigated. For females of unknown age, the mature scenario assumed maturity at the first encounter, while the immature scenario assumed immaturity within 7 yr after the first encounter, unless the female was encountered breeding. These models respectively resulted in a calving interval of 1.49 yr (95% CI: 1.21-2.08) or 2.83 yr (95% CI: 2.28-3.56) and a calving rate of 0.67 or 0.35. The relatively high calving rate modelled by the mature model is consistent with high pregnancy rates recently observed in the migratory corridors of the Kermadec Islands and on the feeding grounds of the Antarctic Peninsula. Therefore, our results suggest that the recovery of the New Caledonia humpback whale population from past exploitation may be partially driven by an increased reproductive capacity.


KEY WORDS: Calving interval · Calving rate · Humpback whales · New Caledonia · Pacific population · Recovery · Sexual maturity


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Cite this article as: Chero G, Pradel R, Derville S, Bonneville C, Gimenez O, Garrigue C (2020) Reproductive capacity of an endangered and recovering population of humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 643:219-227. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13329

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