[MARMAM] New Publication: Estimating cetacean carrying capacity based on spacing behaviour

Janelle Braithwaite janelle.braithwaite at uwa.edu.au
Tue Dec 11 19:50:54 PST 2012

We are pleased to inform you of a new publication using spacing behaviour of humpback whales to estimate the carrying capacity of a migration resting area along the West Australian coast. The paper can be freely accessed on PLoS ONE using the follow link http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0051347

Braithwaite JE, Meeuwig JJ, Jenner KCS (2012) Estimating Cetacean Carrying Capacity Based on Spacing Behaviour. PLoS ONE 7(12): e51347.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051347


Conservation of large ocean wildlife requires an understanding of how they use space. In Western Australia, the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) population is growing at a minimum rate of 10% per year. An important consideration for conservation based management in space-limited environments, such as coastal resting areas, is the potential expansion in area use by humpback whales if the carrying capacity of existing areas is exceeded. Here we determined the theoretical carrying capacity of a known humpback resting area based on the spacing behaviour of pods, where a resting area is defined as a sheltered embayment along the coast. Two separate approaches were taken to estimate this distance. The first used the median nearest neighbour distance between pods in relatively dense areas, giving a spacing distance of 2.16 km (±0.94). The second estimated the spacing distance as the radius at which 50% of the population included no other pods, and was calculated as 1.93 km (range: 1.62-2.50 km). Using these values, the maximum number of pods able to fit into the resting area was 698 and 872 pods, respectively. Given an average observed pod size of 1.7 whales, this equates to a carrying capacity estimate of between 1187 and 1482 whales at any given point in time. This study demonstrates that whale pods do maintain a distance from each other, which may determine the number of animals that can occupy aggregation areas where space is limited. This requirement for space has implications when considering boundaries for protected areas or competition for space with the fishing and resources sectors.

Janelle Braithwaite

PhD Candidate
Centre for Marine Futures
Oceans Institute
University of Western Australia
WA 6009
Research Profile<http://www.oceans.uwa.edu.au/research/postgraduates?profile/1/id/2563>

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