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Identification of humpback whale breeding and calving habitat in the Great Barrier Reef

Smith, J.N., Grantham, H.S., Gales, N., Double, M.C., Noad, M.J. and Paton, D. (2012) Identification of humpback whale breeding and calving habitat in the Great Barrier Reef. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 447 . pp. 259-272.

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    Link to Published Version: http://dx.doi.org/10.3354/meps09462
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    Abstract

    During the winter months, from June to September, humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae breed and calve in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) after migrating north from Antarctic waters. Clearly defined wintering areas for breeding and calving comparable to those identified in other parts of the world have not yet been identified for humpback whales in the GBR Marine Park (GBRMP), mainly because of its large size, which prohibits broad-scale surveys. To identify important wintering areas in the GBRMP, we developed a predictive spatial habitat model using the Maxent modelling method and presence-only sighting data from nondedicated aerial surveys. The model was further validated using a small independent satellite tag data set of 12 whales migrating north into the GBR. The model identified restricted ranges in water depth (30 to 58 m, highest probability 49 m) and sea surface temperature (21 to 23°C, highest probability 21.8°C) and identified 2 core areas of higher probability of whale occurrence in the GBRMP, which correspond well with the movements of satellite tagged whales. We propose that one of the identified core areas is a potentially important wintering area for humpback whales and the other a migration route. With an estimated increase in port and coastal development and shipping activity in the GBRMP and a rapidly increasing population of whales recovering from whaling off the east Australian coast, the rate of human interactions with whales is likely to increase. Identifying important areas for breeding and calving is essential for the future management of human interactions with breeding humpback whales.

    Publication Type: Journal Article
    Murdoch Affiliation: Centre for Fish and Fisheries Research
    Publisher: Inter-Research
    Copyright: © 2012 Inter-Research.
    URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/7337
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