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Modeling cetacean habitat use in an urban coastal area in southeastern Brazil

Liliane Lodi*, Rodrigo Tardin, Guilherme Maricato

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Most studies of cetacean habitat use do not consider the influence of anthropogenic activities on this aspect. Although there are two Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) off the coast of the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, few data are available on cetacean habitat use in this area, or on the overlap of different cetacean species within these MPAs. We investigated the influence of environmental and anthropogenic variables on habitat use by humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae) and Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera brydei) in this area. The aim was to evaluate the effectiveness of the MPAs and propose a buffer zone to better protect the biodiversity of the study area. We conducted systematic surveys and developed Spatial Eigenvector Generalized Linear Models to characterize habitat use by the species in the study area. Habitat use by humpback whales was influenced only by depth, whereas for Bryde’s whale there was the additional influence of anthropogenic variables. In the case of Bryde’s whale, which uses the area for feeding, sea surface temperature and the distance to anchorage areas had a major influence on habitat use. We also showed that neither of the MPAs in the study area protect the hotspots of either whale species adequately. Most of the humpback whale grid cells with high sighting predictions were located within 2km of the MPAs, while in Bryde’s whales high sighting prediction was located up to 5km from the MPAs, closer to beaches. Our findings provide important insights for the delimitation of protected areas and zoning of the MPAs.