• Humpback whales feed on hatchery-released juvenile salmon

      Chenoweth, Ellen M.; Straley, Janice M.; McPhee, Megan V.; Atkinson, Shannon; Reifenstuhl, Steve (The Royal Society Publishing, 2017-06-07)
      Humpback whales are remarkable for the behavioural plasticity of their feeding tactics and the diversity of their diets. Within the last decade at hatchery release sites in Southeast Alaska, humpback whales have begun exploiting juvenile salmon, a previously undocumented prey. The anthropogenic source of these salmon and their important contribution to local fisheries makes the emergence of humpback whale predation a concern for the Southeast Alaska economy. Here, we describe the frequency of observing humpback whales, examine the role of temporal and spatial variables affecting the probability of sighting humpback whales and describe prey capture behaviours at five hatchery release sites. We coordinated twice daily 15 min observations during the spring release seasons 2010–2015. Using logistic regression, we determined that the probability of occurrence of humpback whales increased after releases began and decreased after releases concluded. The probability of whale occurrence varied among release sites but did not increase significantly over the 6 year study period. Whales were reported to be feeding on juvenile chum, Chinook and coho salmon, with photographic and video records of whales feeding on coho salmon. The ability to adapt to new prey sources may be key to sustaining their population in a changing ocean.
    • Seasonal presence and potential influence of humpback whales on wintering Pacific herring populations in the Gulf of Alaska

      Straley, Janice M.; Moran, John M.; Boswell, Kevin M.; Vollenweider, Johanna J.; Heintz, Ron A.; Quinn II, Terrance J.; Witteveen, Brianna Harmony; Rice, Stanley D.; Moran, J. R. (2018-01)
      This 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