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A longitudinal study of humpback whales in Irish waters

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 January 2015

Conor Ryan
Affiliation:
Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Merchant's Quay, Kilrush, Co. Clare, Ireland Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, 28 Main Street, Tobermory, Isle of Mull, PA75 6NU, UK
Pádraig Whooley
Affiliation:
Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Merchant's Quay, Kilrush, Co. Clare, Ireland
Simon D. Berrow
Affiliation:
Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Merchant's Quay, Kilrush, Co. Clare, Ireland Marine and Freshwater Research Centre, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Dublin Road, Galway, Ireland
Colin Barnes
Affiliation:
Cork Whale Watch, Reen Pier, Union Hall, Co. Cork, Ireland
Nick Massett
Affiliation:
Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Merchant's Quay, Kilrush, Co. Clare, Ireland
Wouter J. Strietman
Affiliation:
Stichting Rugvin, Jeruzalem 31A, 6881 JL Velp, the Netherlands
Fredrik Broms
Affiliation:
Akvaplan-Niva AS, Fram Centre, 9296 Tromsø, Norway
Peter T. Stevick
Affiliation:
Allied Whale, College of the Atlantic, 105 Eden Street, Bar Harbor, Maine 04609, USA
Thomas W. Fernald JR
Affiliation:
Allied Whale, College of the Atlantic, 105 Eden Street, Bar Harbor, Maine 04609, USA
Christian Schmidt
Affiliation:
Húsavík Whale Museum, Hafnarstett, PO Box 172, 640 Húsavík, Iceland
Corresponding
E-mail address:

Abstract

Knowledge on the ecology of humpback whales in the eastern North Atlantic is lacking by comparison with most other ocean basins. Humpback whales were historically over-exploited in the region and are still found in low relative abundances. This, coupled with their large range makes them difficult to study. With the aim of informing more effective conservation measures in Ireland, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group began recording sightings and images suitable for photo-identification of humpback whales from Irish waters in 1999. Validated records submitted by members of the public and data from dedicated surveys were analysed to form a longitudinal study of individually recognizable humpback whales. The distribution, relative abundance and seasonality of humpback whale sighting records are presented, revealing discrete important areas for humpback whales in Irish coastal waters. An annual easterly movement of humpback whales along the southern coast of Ireland is documented, mirroring that of their preferred prey: herring and sprat. Photo-identification images were compared with others collected throughout the North Atlantic (N = 8016), resulting in matches of two individuals between Ireland and Iceland, Norway and the Netherlands but no matches to known breeding grounds (Cape Verde and West Indies). This study demonstrates that combining public records with dedicated survey data is an effective approach to studying low-density, threatened migratory species over temporal and spatial scales that are relevant to conservation and management.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 2015 

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