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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Distribution and habitat use modelling from satellite tracking data of humpback whales in Brazil agree with shipboard survey data modelling

Guilherme A. Bortolotto*, Alexandre N. Zerbini, Len Thomas, Artur Andriolo, Philip S. Hammond

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Statistical modelling of animal distribution has been widely applied to explain how mobile species use their habitats. The distribution and habitat use of humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae off the eastern coast of Brazil have previously been investigated by modelling visual survey data. Here we modelled their distribution in their breeding range using individual tracking data to compare ecological inferences with those from previous models from line transect data. A Generalized Estimating Equation framework was used to model the tracking data and pseudo-absences as functions of spatial covariates. Covariates considered were latitude and longitude, sea surface temperature (SST), current and wind speeds near the surface, distances to shelf-break and the coast, sea bottom depth and slope, and a factor variable representing “shelter”. Two modelling exercises were developed: a Habitat Use Model (HUM) and a Distribution Model (DIM). Covariates retained in the selected HUM were SST, distance to coast and shelf-break, current and wind speeds, and shelter. Covariates retained in the selected DIM were latitude/longitude, current speed, and distances to shelf-break and coast. The modelled relationships between whale occurrence and environmental covariates using tracking data were similar to those using line transect data. Distribution maps were also similar, supporting higher densities around the Abrolhos Archipelago and to its south. We showed that habitat use and distribution of this population in the area could be similarly inferred by modelling either line transect or tracking data. Using these two approaches in conjunction can strengthen the understanding of important ecological aspects of animal populations.