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Differing prey associations and habitat use suggest niche partitioning by fin (Balaenoptera physalus) and humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae) whales off Kodiak Island

Abigail McCarthy*, Alex De Robertis, Stan Kotwicki, Kathy Hough, Paul Wade, Christopher Wilson

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Fin and humpback whales share foraging areas and may compete for the same prey, but little is known about the extent to which they partition prey resources. Visual cetacean surveys and simultaneous acoustic-trawl surveys of prey were conducted around two submarine canyons off Kodiak Island, Alaska in 2004 and 2006. Statistical models were used to examine the associations between sightings of fin and humpback whales and measures of their potential prey and environment. Observations and models indicate that fin whales were disproportionately abundant in areas with the highest observed euphausiid concentrations, while humpback whales were abundant at lower euphausiid concentrations and in areas where juvenile walleye pollock were abundant. Fin whales were abundant in the areas where euphausiid biomass was deepest and in the deepest areas surveyed (>150 m depth). In contrast, humpback whales primarily occurred in shallower areas and near more shallowly distributed euphausiids. The different depth and prey affinities of fin and humpback whales suggest niche and habitat partitioning between these two co-occurring species. Abundance models built using acoustic estimates of prey density are a useful tool to further understanding of the abundance, distribution, and behavior of these animals.