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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

The uncertain bioenergetics of North Atlantic right whales

Jasmin C. Hütt*, Peter Corkeron, Julie M. van der Hoop, Michael J. Moore

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Critically endangered North Atlantic right whales (NARWs) risk extinction, without substantive reduction of anthropogenic trauma. Decreasing population size is due to two main issues besides vessel collision: entanglement in fishing gear and changes in food availability due to ecosystem changes in the face of climate disruption. Both can affect NARW energetics, leading to reduced body condition, decreased reproductive success of individuals, and deterioration of overall population health. To measure the impact of these stressors and their interaction, energetic costs associated with entanglement and starvation were incorporated in a bioenergetic model, established for a generic female right whale. We compared models for a NARW living now, one from two decades ago, when the species’ abundance was increasing at approximately 2% year-1, and a Southern right whale (SRW) from a population increasing at approximately 6% year-1. Parameter uncertainty associated with daily estimates of food intake, basal metabolic rate, and possible influences of baleen rack disruption from entanglement were so great that differences between the three generic right whale females were indistinguishable. Therefore, we included a stunted whale into the model. It was also indistinguishable from our first three model whales. Further, it made robust predictions of NARW energy budgets – let alone the impact of specific stressors in varying intensity – impossible. The capacity of bioenergetic modeling to inform conservation management of NARWs will be substantially enhanced by resolving these parameter uncertainties.