4 years ago

Habitat preferences by individual humpback whale mothers in the Hawaiian breeding grounds vary with the age and size of their calves

We investigated whether calf age and calf size influence habitat choice by humpback whale mother–calf pairs in their breeding grounds. During 1997–2008, we conducted focal follows of mother–calf pairs in Hawaiian waters. Tail-fluke identification photographs and calf lengths (measured through videogrammetry) were obtained. Water depth and sea-bed terrain type were derived from GPS data. Identification photographs were matched so that the habitat choices could be established within breeding seasons. Across 72 mother–calf pairs resighted over various intervals within a breeding season, magnitude of depth change between initial and final sightings increased significantly with resighting interval. There was a significant increase from initial depth to final depth for relatively long resighting intervals (27–51 days), but no significant difference for relatively short resighting intervals (2–26 days). Although there was no preference for sea-bed terrain type by mother–calf pairs at their initial sighting, there was a preference for rugged terrain at their final resighting. A resource selection model indicated that the relative probability of a location being used by a mother–calf pair increased (as a function of water depth and rugged sea-bed terrain type) from initial to final sighting; a finding supported by subsequent tests of habitat preference versus availability. For 96 measured calves, calf length and water depth were positively correlated, even when ordinal day of measurement was controlled for statistically; a finding confirmed by a general linear model that simultaneously investigated the relationship between water depth, sea-bed terrain type, number of escorts, ordinal day and calf size. Thus, both calf age and size influence habitat choice by mother–calf pairs in their breeding grounds. The movement of mothers and their maturing calves into deeper waters where they favour rugged sea-bed terrain appears to be part of a suite of behavioural changes during the pre-migratory phase of residency in the breeding grounds.

Publisher URL: www.sciencedirect.com/science

DOI: S0003347217302993

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