• 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.
    • Local recruitment of humpback whales in Glacier Bay and Icy Strait, Alaska, over 30 years

      Pierszalowski, Sophie P.; Gabriele, Christine M.; Steel, Debbie J.; Neilson, Janet L.; Vanselow, Phoebe B. S.; Cedarleaf, Jennifer A.; Straley, Janice M.; Baker, C. Scott (2016-03-15)
      We provide new information on the scale at which fidelity and recruitment underlie observed increases in humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae populations. We used photoidentification records and DNA profiles from whales in Glacier Bay and Icy Strait (GBIS), southeastern Alaska (SEAK) to investigate 3 sources of population increase over 33 yr (1973−2005): local GBIS recruitment, recruitment from elsewhere in SEAK, and immigration from outside SEAK. We defined 2 temporal strata for these longitudinal records: ‘founder’ individuals identified from 1973 to 1985 (n = 74; n = 46 with DNA profiles) and ‘contemporary’ individuals identified from 2004 to 2005 (n = 171; n = 118 with DNA profiles). To distinguish between local recruitment and recruitment from elsewhere in SEAK, we estimated the proportion of the contemporary stratum that was either a returning founder or descended from a founder female. After excluding 42 contemporary whales without a known mother or genotype to infer maternity, 73.6% of the contemporary stratum was confirmed or inferred through parentage analysis to be either a returning founder or a descendant of a founder mother. Of the 25 females with genotypes in the founder stratum, 24 (96%) were either represented in the contemporary stratum, had at least 1 descendant in the contemporary stratum, or both. We found no significant differences in microsatellite allele or mtDNA frequencies between the strata, suggesting little or no immigration from other feeding grounds. Our results highlight the importance of local habitat protection for a recovering species with culturally inherited migratory destinations.
    • Using movements, genetics and trophic ecology to differentiate inshore from offshore aggregations of humpback whales in the Gulf of Alaska

      Witteveen, Briana Harmony; Straley, Janice M.; Chenoweth, Ellen M.; Baker, C. Scott; Barlow, Jay; Matkin, Craig O.; Gabriele, Christine M.; Neilson, Janet L.; Steel, Debbie J.; von Ziegesar, Olga; et al. (Inter-Research Science Publisher, 2011-09-23)
      Humpback 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.