Antarctic sonobuoy surveys for blue whales from 2006-2021 reveal contemporary distribution, changes over time, and paths to further our understanding of their distribution and biology

Brian S. Miller, Virginia Andrews-Goff, Jay Barlow, Elanor Bell, Susannah Calderan, Michael C. Double, Jason Gedamke, Nat Kelly, Sarah Laverick, Russell Leaper, Elanor j. Miller, Kym Reeve, Ana Širović, Kathleen M. Stafford

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Abstract

Seven passive acoustic surveys for marine mammal sounds were conducted by deploying sonobuoys along ship tracks during Antarctic voyages spanning years 2006-2021. These surveys included nearly 330° of longitude throughout Antarctic (south of 60°S) and sub-Antarctic (between 50-60°S) latitudes. Here, we summarise the presence of calls from critically endangered Antarctic blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus intermedia) detected on all seven of these surveys. We describe and compare the spatial distribution of detections of three different types of Antarctic blue whale calls: unit-A, Z-calls, and D-calls. Three sets of voyages partially overlapped spatially but in different years, providing three regions (Indian Sector, Dumont d’Urville Sea, Ross Sea) to investigate differences over time for these three different call types. The proportion of sonobuoys with calls present was significantly higher in the more recent years for seven of the 15 combinations of years, regions, and call type. The proportion of sonobuoys with calls present was significantly lower only for one of the 15 combinations (unit A in the Ross Sea between 2015 vs 2017), and not significantly different for the remaining seven pairwise comparisons. We discuss possible explanations for these observations including: differences in probability of detection, whale behaviour, whale distribution, and abundance. These explanations are not mutually exclusive and cannot yet be resolved without application of complex analytical methods and collection of additional data. Lastly, we discuss future work that could help clarify the contributions of each of these potential drivers of acoustic detection. We propose continued acoustic data collection, application of new analytical methods, and collection of other synergistic data from Antarctic blue whales on their feeding grounds as a basis for future work on this species. This could provide a cost effective and holistic means of monitoring their status after the effects of 20th century industrial whaling, as well as their responses to natural and anthropogenic changes to their main prey, Antarctic krill, and a changing climate.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
Volume11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 26 Apr 2024

Keywords

  • Antarctic blue whale
  • passive acoustic monitoring
  • sonobuoy
  • ecology
  • marine biology
  • Antarctic
  • Southern Ocean

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