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Satellite-Monitored Movements of the Northern Right Whale

Bruce R. Mate, Sharon L. Nieukirk and Scott D. Kraus
The Journal of Wildlife Management
Vol. 61, No. 4 (Oct., 1997), pp. 1393-1405
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Wildlife Society
DOI: 10.2307/3802143
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3802143
Page Count: 13
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Satellite-Monitored Movements of the Northern Right Whale
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Abstract

The northern right whale, Eubalaena glacialis, remains the most critically endangered of the large cetaceans despite international protection since 1936. We used satellite-monitored radiotags to identify the late-summer and fall habitat use patterns of right whales in the western North Atlantic. We tagged 9 whales in the Bay of Fundy (BOF) and successfully tracked them for a total of 13,910 km (x̄ = 1,546 km) in 195 whale-tracking days (range 7-42 days each, (x̄ = 21.7 days). Individuals tracked for more than 12 consecutive days (N = 6 whales) left the BOF at least once and had higher average speeds (x̄ = 3.5 km/hr) than those that stayed within the bay (x̄ = 1.1 km/hr). Three of the tagged whales not only left the BOF, but traveled more than 2,000 km each before returning to the general tagging area. One adult female with a calf went to New Jersey and back to the BOF (3,761 km) in 42 days. Most locations were along bank edges, in basins or along the continental shelf. Eighty percent of locations were in water <182 m (100 fathoms [F]) deep. All of the tagged whales were located in or near shipping lanes. Right whale distribution coincided with areas intensively used by humans for fishing, shipping, and recreation. Individuals moved rapidly among areas previously identified as right whale habitat. Whale locations plotted on sea surface temperature (satellite infrared) images suggest that one whale spent time at the edge of a warm core ring and others spent extended periods in upwellings. Observations of whales surfacing with mud on their heads suggest that these whales fed near the BOF seafloor. Satellite telemetry is a useful means of tracking cetacean species that are difficult to view, move long distances, and might be too expensive to monitor by other means.

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