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Pectoral herding: an innovative tactic for humpback whale foragingHumpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) have exceptionally long pectorals (i.e. flippers) that aid in shallow water navigation, rapid acceleration and increased manoeuvrability. The use of pectorals to herd or manipulate prey has been hypothesized since the 1930s. We combined new technology and a unique viewing platform to document the additional use of pectorals to aggregate prey during foraging events. Here, we provide a description of ‘pectoral herding’ and explore the conditions that may promote this innovative foraging behaviour. Specifically, we analysed aerial videos and photographic sequences to assess the function of pectorals during feeding events near salmon hatchery release sites in Southeast Alaska (2016–2018). We observed the use of solo bubble-nets to initially corral prey, followed by calculated movements to establish a secondary boundary with the pectorals—further condensing prey and increasing foraging efficiency. We found three ways in which humpback whales use pectorals to herd prey: (i) create a physical barrier to prevent evasion, (ii) cause water motion to guide prey towards the mouth, and (iii) position the ventral side to reflect light and alter prey movement. Our findings suggest that behavioural plasticity may aid foraging in changing environments and shifts in prey availability. Further study would clarify if ‘pectoral herding’ is used as a principal foraging tool by the broader humpback whale population and the conditions that promote its use.
Using line acceleration to measure false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) click and whistle source levels during pelagic longline depredationFalse killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) depredate pelagic longlines in offshore Hawaiian waters. On January 28, 2015 a depredation event was recorded 14m from an integrated GoPro camera, hydrophone, and accelerometer, revealing that false killer whales depredate bait and generate clicks and whistles under good visibility conditions. The act of plucking bait off a hook generated a distinctive 15 Hz line vibration. Two similar line vibrations detected at earlier times permitted the animal’s range and thus signal source levels to be estimated over a 25-min window. Peak power spectral density source levels for whistles (4–8 kHz) were estimated to be between 115 and 130 dB re 1 lPa2/Hz @ 1 m. Echolocation click source levels over 17–32 kHz bandwidth reached 205 dB re 1lPa @ 1 m pk-pk, or 190 dB re 1lPa @ 1 m (root-meansquare). Predicted detection ranges of the most intense whistles are 10 to 25 km at respective sea states of 4 and 1, with click detection ranges being 5 times smaller than whistles. These detection range analyses provide insight into how passive acoustic monitoring might be used to both quantify and avoid depredation encounters.
Summary of Reported Whale-Vessel Collisions in Alaskan WatersHere we summarize 108 reported whale-vessel collisions in Alaska from 1978–2011, of which 25 are known to have resulted in the whale's death. We found 89 definite and 19 possible/probable strikes based on standard criteria we created for this study. Most strikes involved humpback whales (86%) with six other species documented. Small vessel strikes were most common (<15 m, 60%), but medium (15–79 m, 27%) and large (≥80 m, 13%) vessels also struck whales. Among the 25 mortalities, vessel length was known in seven cases (190–294 m) and vessel speed was known in three cases (12–19 kn). In 36 cases, human injury or property damage resulted from the collision, and at least 15 people were thrown into the water. In 15 cases humpback whales struck anchored or drifting vessels, suggesting the whales did not detect the vessels. Documenting collisions in Alaska will remain challenging due to remoteness and resource limitations. For a better understanding of the factors contributing to lethal collisions, we recommend (1) systematic documentation of collisions, including vessel size and speed; (2) greater efforts to necropsy stranded whales; (3) using experienced teams focused on determining cause of death; (4) using standard criteria for validating collision reports, such as those presented in this paper.
Seasonal presence and potential influence of humpback whales on wintering Pacific herring populations in the Gulf of AlaskaThis study addressed the lack of recovery of Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in relation to humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) predation. As humpback whales rebound from commercial whaling, their ability to influence their prey through top-down forcing increases. We compared the potential influence of foraging humpback whales on three herring populations in the coastal Gulf of Alaska: Prince William Sound, Lynn Canal, and Sitka Sound (133–147°W; 57–61°N) from 2007 to 2009. Information on whale distribution, abundance, diet and the availability of herring as potential prey were used to correlate populations of overwintering herring and humpback whales. In Prince William Sound, the presence of whales coincided with the peak of herring abundance, allowing whales to maximize the consumption of overwintering herring prior to their southern migration. In Lynn Canal and Sitka Sound peak attendance of whales occurred earlier, in the fall, before the herring had completely moved into the areas, hence, there was less opportunity for predation to influence herring populations. North Pacific humpback whales in the Gulf of Alaska may be experiencing nutritional stress from reaching or exceeding carrying capacity, or oceanic conditions may have changed sufficiently to alter the prey base. Intraspecific competition for food may make it harder for humpback whales to meet their annual energetic needs. To meet their energetic demands whales may need to lengthen their time feeding in the northern latitudes or by skipping the annual migration altogether. If humpback whales extended their time feeding in Alaskan waters during the winter months, the result would likely be an increase in herring predation
Using movements, genetics and trophic ecology to differentiate inshore from offshore aggregations of humpback whales in the Gulf of AlaskaHumpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae have been studied in the coastal waters of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) since the late 1960s, but information about whales foraging offshore is limited. A large-scale collaborative project (SPLASH) provided opportunities to study humpback whales in both inshore and offshore habitats. Using identification photographs and biopsy samples, we explored individual movements, the distribution of mitochondrial (mtDNA) haplotypes, and trophic levels for humpback whales within 3 regions (Kodiak, KOD; Prince William Sound, PWS; and southeastern Alaska, SEAK) of the GOA to determine whether inshore and offshore aggregations of humpback whales are distinct. Each region was divided into inshore and offshore habitats, creating 6 subregions for comparison. Results documenting 2136 individual whales showed that movement within the study area was most frequent between inshore and offshore subregions within a region. In general, movement between regions was minimal. Tissue samples of 483 humpback whales included 15 mtDNA haplotypes. Pairwise chi-squared tests showed haplotype differences between subregions, but inshore PWS was the only subregion with a haplotype composition significantly different than all other subregions. Trophic levels, as inferred from stable nitrogen isotope ratios, were significantly different among subregions, ranging from 3.4 to 4.5. Pairwise comparisons showed that inshore PWS was again the only subregion that significantly differed from all others. Results suggest that the combined inshore and offshore habitats for KOD and the inshore and offshore habitats for SEAK should each be considered as single regional feeding aggregations, while inshore PWS may represent a separate aggregation from PWS offshore.