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MEPS 676:77-94 (2021)  -  DOI:

Population abundance of recovering humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae and other baleen whales in the Scotia Arc, South Atlantic

Mick Baines1,*, Natalie Kelly2, Maren Reichelt1, Claire Lacey3,4, Simon Pinder5, Sophie Fielding6, Eugene Murphy6, Phil Trathan6, Martin Biuw7, Ulf Lindstrøm7,8, Bjørn A. Krafft9, Jennifer A. Jackson6

1Wildscope, El Cuartón, 11380 Tarifa, Cádiz, Spain
2Australian Antarctic Division, Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Kingston, Tasmania 7050, Australia
3SMRU, Scottish Ocean Institute, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife KY16 8LB, UK
4Marine Mammal Research Program, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawai’i at Manoa, HI 96744, USA
5Leuchars, St Andrews KY16 0HR, UK
6British Antarctic Survey, NERC, High Cross, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK
7Institute of Marine Research, Framsenteret, 9296 Tromsø, Norway
8UiT Norges Arktiske Universitet, 9037 Tromsø, Norway
9Institute of Marine Research, Nordnes, 5817 Bergen, Norway
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Following the cessation of whaling, South Atlantic populations of humpback Megaptera novaeangliae and some other baleen whale species are recovering, but there has been limited monitoring of their recovery in the Scotia Arc, a former whaling epicentre and a hotspot for Antarctic krill Euphausia superba. To inform the management of krill fisheries, up-to-date assessment of whale biomass and prey consumption is essential. Using a model-based approach, we provide the first estimates of whale abundance and krill consumption for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and total abundance of humpback whales across their southwestern Atlantic feeding grounds, using data collected in 2019. Humpback whale abundance was estimated at 24543 (coefficient of variation, CV = 0.26; 95% CI = 14863-40528), similar to that measured in Brazil on the main wintering ground for this population. The abundance of baleen whales in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, including those not identified to species level, was estimated at 43824 (CV = 0.15, 95% CI = 33509-59077). Based on the proportion of humpback whales identified during the surveys (83%), the majority of these are likely to be humpback whales. Annual krill consumption by baleen whales was estimated to be in the range 4.8 to 7.2 million tons, representing 7 to 10% of the estimated krill biomass in the region. However, there is a need to better understand feeding rates in baleen whales, and further research into this field should be a priority to improve the accuracy and precision of prey consumption rate estimation.

KEY WORDS: Humpback whale · Baleen whale · Abundance · Krill consumption · South Georgia · South Sandwich Islands

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Cite this article as: Baines M, Kelly N, Reichelt M, Lacey C and others (2021) Population abundance of recovering humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae and other baleen whales in the Scotia Arc, South Atlantic. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 676:77-94.

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