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Population comparison of right whale body condition reveals poor state of the North Atlantic right whale

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DOI

  • Fredrik Oscar Christiansen
  • Stephen M. Dawson, University of Otago, New Zealand
  • John W. Durban, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA, United States
  • Holly Fearnbach, SeaLife Response, Rehabilitation and Research, Seattle, WA 98126, USA, United States
  • Carolyn A. Miller, Department of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543 USA, United States
  • Lars Bejder, Murdoch University, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Denmark
  • Marcela Uhart, Southern Right Whale Health Monitoring Program, Puerto Madryn, Chubut 9120, Argentina, University of California, Davis, Argentina
  • Mariano Sironi, Southern Right Whale Health Monitoring Program, Puerto Madryn, Chubut 9120, Argentina, Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas, Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, Argentina
  • Peter Corkeron, Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, New England Aquarium, Boston, MA 02110, USA, United States
  • William Rayment, Department of Marine Science, University of Otago, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand, New Zealand
  • Eva Leunissen, Department of Marine Science, University of Otago, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand, New Zealand
  • Eashani Haria, Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems, Harry Butler Institute, Murdoch University, Murdoch, 6150 Western Australia, Australia, Australia
  • Rhianne Ward, Centre for Marine Science and Technology, Curtin University, Bentley, 6102 Western Australia, Australia, Australia
  • Hunter A. Warick, Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems, Harry Butler Institute, Murdoch University, Murdoch, 6150 Western Australia, Australia, Australia
  • Iain Kerr, Ocean Alliance, Gloucester, MA 01930, USA, United States
  • Morgan S. Lynn, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA, United States
  • Heather M. Pettis, Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, New England Aquarium, Boston, MA 02110, USA, United States
  • Michael J. Moore, Biology Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, 266 Woods Hole Road, MS #33, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA. mbaumgartner@whoi.edu, United States
The North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis (NARW), currently numbering <410 individuals, is on a trajectory to extinction. Al though direct mortality from ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements remain the major threats to the population, reproductive failure, resulting from poor body condition and sublethal chronic entanglement stress, is believed to play a crucial role in the population decline. Using photo grammetry from unmanned aerial vehicles, we conducted the largest population assessment of right whale body condition to date, to determine if the condition of NARWs was poorer than 3 seemingly healthy (i.e. growing) populations of southern right whales E. australis (SRWs) in Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. We found that NARW juveniles, adults and lactating females all had lower body condition scores compared to the SRW populations. While some of the difference could be the result of genetic isolation and adaptations to local environmental conditions, the magnitude suggests that NARWs are in poor condition, which could be suppressing their growth, survival, age of sexual maturation and calving rates. NARW calves were found to be in good condition. Their body length, however, was strongly determined by the body condition of their mothers, suggesting that the poor condition of lactating NARW females may cause a reduction in calf growth rates. This could potentially lead to a reduction in calf survival or an in crease in female calving intervals. Hence, the poor body condition of individuals within the NARW population is of major concern for its future viability.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Volume640
Pages (from-to) 1–16
ISSN0171-8630
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020

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