Diel differences in blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) dive behavior increase nighttime risk of ship strikes in northern Chilean Patagonia. uri icon

abstract

  • The northern Chilean Patagonia region is a key feeding ground and a nursing habitat in the southern hemisphere for blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus). From 2014 to 2019 during six separate research cruises, the dive behavior of 28 individual blue whales was investigated using bio-logging tags (DTAGs), generating ? 190 hours of data. Whales dove to significantly greater depths during the day compared to nighttime (day: 32.6 ± 18.7 m; night: 6.2 ± 2.7 m; p<0.01). During the night, most time was spent close to the surface (86 ± 9.4%; p <0.01) and at depths of less than 12 m. From 2016 to 2019, active acoustics (scientific echosounders) were used to record prey (euphausiids) density and distribution simultaneously with whale diving data. Tagged whales appeared to perform dives relative to the vertical migration of prey during the day. The association to diurnal prey migration and shallow nighttime dive behavior, suggests that blue whales are at increased risk of ship collisions during periods of darkness since the estimated maximum ship draft of vessels operating in the region is also ? 12 m. In recent decades, northern Chilean Patagonia has seen a large increase in marine traffic due to a boom in salmon aquaculture and the passenger ship industry. Vessel strike risk for large whales are likely underestimated in this region. The results reported in this study may be valuable for policy and mitigation decisions regarding conservation of the endangered blue whale. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

publication date

  • November 9, 2020