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Estimating the cost of growth in southern right whales from drone photogrammetry data and long-term sighting histories

Christiansen, F., Bejder, L., Burnell, S., Ward, R. and Charlton, C. (2022) Estimating the cost of growth in southern right whales from drone photogrammetry data and long-term sighting histories. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 687 . pp. 173-194.

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Animal body size and growth patterns play important roles in shaping the life history of species. Baleen whales include the largest animals on the planet, with somatic growth costs expected to be substantial. We used unmanned aerial vehicle photogrammetry and long-term individual sighting histories from photo identification (1991-2019) to estimate the cost of somatic growth for southern right whales (SRWs) Eubalaena australis. A Richards length-at-age growth model was developed, based on 161 calves, 20 yearlings, 1 juvenile and 23 adults, ranging in age from newborn to 27 yr. Predicted lengths were 4.7 m at birth, 12.5 m at minimum age of first parturition (6 yr) and an asymptotic length of 14.3 m. A volume-at-age curve was estimated from the body volume versus length relationship, and converted to a mass-at-age curve, using data on body tissue composition of North Pacific right whales E. japonica (n = 13). The energetic cost of growth was estimated using published estimates of tissue lipid and protein concentrations. The cost of growth for SRWs (in MJ d-1) was 2112 at birth, 544 at 4 mo, 314 at 1 yr (~weaning age), 108 at 5 yr (minimum age of sexual maturity), 51.5 at 10 yr and 5.2 at 30 yr. The cumulative cost to age 30 was 764.3 GJ, but varied widely (458-995 GJ) depending on the tissue energy content. Our estimates represent a healthy SRW population, and provide a baseline to investigate individual and population level impacts of anthropogenic disturbance (including climate change).

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems
Publisher: Inter-Research
Copyright: © 2022 Inter-Research.
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