Satellite tagging of blue whales in southern Australian waters: examining behaviour, movements and occupancy patterns to inform management decision-making. (#603)
Blue whales are endangered due to 20th century whaling. It is imperative to determine behaviour, movements and occupancy of blue whales in Australian waters for identifying biologically important areas for these whales, and when and where anthropogenic activities may disrupt them. Concentrations of pygmy blue whales in Australia with the least knowledge of occupancy patterns and movements include the feeding area at the Bonney Upwelling and adjacent waters in southern Australia. During January-March 2015 we satellite tagged 13 whales (5 with depth/location and 8 with location-only transmitters; Wildlife Computers) in the Bonney Upwelling region. The tags and the deployment method were those previously refined by the Australian Antarctic Division (Double et al. 2014), and data are collected using the Argos system. Whales were photo-identified and also biopsied to determine sex and confirm subspecies. Up to the date of submission of this abstract, tags transmitted from a range of 11 hours to 49 days. Whales performed square-, U- and V-shape dives, dived to a maximum of 483 m, and for a maximum of 51 min. Whale movements ranged from eastern South Australia, over the continental shelf south of Kangaroo Island, to between mainland Australia and Tasmania. The distance travelled ranged from 86km for the tag that transmitted for 11 hrs, to 4438km for a tag that transmitted for 48 days and 13 hrs. Most whales remained for the majority of their time over the continental shelf in the area of the Bonney Upwelling with some movements to the continental slope. Additional data analyses will involve comparing whale tracks with environmental variables (sea surface temperature and chlorophyll a), using these tracks to infer behavioural states using state-space models, and potentially determining the northward migratory route of the whales using this feeding area. This information will inform management decision-making under Australia’s Environmental Protection Biodiversity and Conservation Act, which is especially important given the increasing amount of oil and gas activities off southern Australia.