[MARMAM] New publication: Humpback Whale Movements and Behavior in Response to Whale-Watching Vessels in Juneau, AK

Alicia Schuler alicia.r.schuler at gmail.com
Wed Nov 20 12:25:16 PST 2019

Dear colleagues,

On behalf of my co-authors, I am excited to announce the publication of the
following open access article in Frontiers in Marine Science:

*Humpback Whale Movements and Behavior in Response to Whale-Watching
Vessels in Juneau, AK*

Schuler AR, Piwetz S, Di Clemente J, Steckler D, Mueter F and Pearson HC
(2019) Humpback
Whale Movements and Behavior in Response to Whale-Watching Vessels in
Juneau, AK.
Front. Mar. Sci. 6:710. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00710

The whale-watching industry in Juneau, Alaska relies primarily on the
presence of North Pacific humpback whales (*Megaptera novaeangliae*). To
meet demands from the rapidly growing tourism industry, the number of
whale-watching vessels in this region has tripled over the last 18 years.
As a result, increased vessel presence could have negative effects on
humpback whales, ranging from short-term behavioral disturbance to
long-term impacts. The current humpback whale viewing regulations are
outdated and may not be as effective as they were 18 years ago, when both
the whale-watching industry and humpback whale population were smaller. The
present study assessed how humpback whale movement and behavioral patterns
were affected by (1) vessel presence and number of vessels present, and (2)
time spent in the presence of vessels. The study also determined how
humpback whale behavioral state transitions were affected by vessel
presence. A total of 201 humpback whale focal follows were conducted during
summer 2016 and 2017. Based on linear mixed effects models, whales in the
presence (vs. absence) of vessels exhibited 38.9% higher deviation in
linear movement (p = 0.001), 6.2% increase in swimming speed (p = 0.047)
and a 6.7% decrease in inter-breath intervals (IBI) (p = 0.025). For each
additional vessel present, deviation increased by 6.2% (p = 0.022) and IBI
decreased by 3.4% (p = 0.001). As time spent in the presence of vessels
increased, respiration rate increased (p = 0.011). Feeding and traveling
humpback whales were likely to maintain their behavioral state regardless
of vessel presence, while surface active humpback whales were likely to
transition to traveling in the presence of vessels. These short-term
changes in movement and behavior in response to whale-watching vessels
could lead to cumulative, long-term consequences, negatively impacting the
health and predictability of the resource on which the industry relies.
Current formal vessel approach regulations and voluntary guidelines should
be revisited to reduce vessel pressure and mitigate potential negative
effects of this growing whale-watching industry.

The paper can be accessed freely using the following link:

Please feel free to contact me at alicia.r.schuler at gmail.com if you have
any queries.

Best regards,

Alicia R. Schuler, M.Sc.
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