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Low energy expenditure and resting behaviour of humpback whale mother-calf pairs highlights conservation importance of sheltered breeding areas

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  • L Bejder, Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems, Harry Butler Institute, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA, Australia. lbejder@hawaii.edu.
  • ,
  • S Videsen
  • ,
  • L Hermannsen
  • ,
  • M Simon, Greenland Climate Research Centre, Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, Nuuk
  • ,
  • D Hanf, Murdoch University Cetacean Research Unit, School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, Murdoch University, South Street, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia
  • ,
  • P T Madsen

Understanding the behaviour of humpback whale mother-calf pairs and the acoustic environment on their breeding grounds is fundamental to assessing the biological and ecological requirements needed to ensure a successful migration and survival of calves. Therefore, on a breeding/resting ground, Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia, we used animal-borne DTAGs to quantify the fine-scale behaviour and energetic expenditure of humpback whale mothers and calves, while sound recorders measured the acoustic environment. We show that: (i) lactating humpback whales keep their energy expenditure low by devoting a significant amount of time to rest, and their use of energy, inferred from respiration rates, is ~half than that of adults on their foraging grounds; (ii) lactating females mainly rest while stationary at shallow depths within reach of the hull of commercial ships, thus increasing the potential for ship strike collisions; (iii) the soundscape is dominated by biological sources; and (iv) even moderate increases of noise from vessels will decrease the communication range of humpback whales. Planned commercial infrastructure in Exmouth Gulf will cause a substantial increase in shipping traffic with the risk of ship strikes and acoustic disturbance potentially compromising energy reserves for the southern migration of humpback whales.

Original languageEnglish
Article number771
JournalScientific Reports
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jan 2019

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