Humpback Habitats Off Madagascar Revealed As Energy Exploration Ramps Up

2017-01-13T13:09:29+00:00 January 13, 2017|
Tagged humpback whales travel much further in the southwest Indian Ocean than previously thought.  (Credit: Doug Perrine, NOAA Permit # 88)

(Click to enlarge) Tagged humpback whales travel much further in the southwest Indian Ocean than previously thought. (Credit: Doug Perrine, NOAA Permit # 88)

How humpback whales use marine habitats off the eastern coast of Africa is only partially understood, and that has become a conservation concern as offshore energy exploration expands in the region. However, a new study published in Marine Ecology Progress Series found that humpback whales that were satellite tagged off the coast of Madagascar during peak breeding season are traveling much further in the southwest Indian Ocean than previously thought. This research can help define potentially sensitive areas that should be protected from the disruption of seismic testing or other industrial development that could be destructive to the humpback population and this globally important marine habitat.

(From Science Daily)– For this field research, twenty-three humpback whales were satellite tagged off Madagascar during the height of breeding season, a scientific first.

The study was led by the New England Aquarium’s Dr. Salvatore Cerchio, while working with the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, in a broad international collaboration with the University of Paris Sud, the Madagascar-based NGO Cetamada, and NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Lab in Seattle. The research team sought to examine movements of humpback whales in the southwestern Indian Ocean where they breed and calf during the southern hemisphere’s winter months, after migrating from their sub-Antarctic summer feeding waters.

“It’s our hope that this work will help us understand more accurately the breeding and migratory behavior of humpback whales in the southwest Indian Ocean,” said Dr. Cerchio who is also affiliated with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “As more development and industry encroaches on their habitat, it will be important for us to know how these potentially sensitive areas should be protected for this vital species.”

Among the more significant discoveries was that males and females had different movement patterns. Males were more localized as they seemed to establish preferred areas from which to broadcast their famous songs, while females — quite unexpectedly — showed more long distance travel patterns presumably in search of more mates.

Two areas along Madagascar’s 900 mile length were also found to be important and possibly distinct breeding habitats. Whales tagged in northeastern waters spent more time on the central east coast, while whales tagged in the southwest frequented the southern coast of the world’s fourth largest island. Several whales from the northeast study group swam westward across the Mozambique Channel to near the African mainland where there is also another significant sub-population of wintering humpbacks. This is a movement corridor that was previously unknown.

Read the full article here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170104192308.htm