[MARMAM] New paper: Intra- and inter-annual variation in gray whale body condition on a foraging ground

Leila Lemos leslemos at hotmail.com
Sun May 10 14:33:09 PDT 2020

Dear MARMAM community,

my co-authors and I are pleased to share our newest publication at Ecosphere:

Lemos LS, Burnett JD, Chandler TE, Sumich JL, Torres LG. 2020. Intra©\ and inter©\annual variation in gray whale body condition on a foraging ground. Ecosphere 11(4):e03094.


Baleen whales store energy gained on foraging grounds to support reproduction and other metabolic needs while fasting for long periods during migration. Whale body condition can be used to monitor foraging success, and thus better understand and anticipate individual©\ and population©\level trends in reproduction and survival. We assessed the body condition of eastern North Pacific gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) on their foraging grounds along the Oregon coast, USA, from June to October of three consecutive years (2016¨C2018). We used drone photogrammetry and applied the body area index (BAI) to measure and compare whale body condition, which is a continuous, unitless metric similar to the body mass index in humans. A total of 289 drone flights were carried out over 106 photo©\identified whales, which were grouped into demographic units by sex, maturity, and female reproductive status. Calves and pregnant females displayed the highest BAIs, followed by resting females, mature males, and, finally, lactating females, reflecting the significant energetic demands on reproductive females. In all three years, gray whale body condition improved with the progression of feeding seasons, demonstrating the accumulation of body energy reserves on the foraging grounds. Yet, body condition was significantly better in 2016 than in 2017 and 2018 when overall body depletion was observed, indicating a difference in prey availability and/or quality between years. We analyzed local upwelling patterns between 2013 and 2018 as an oceanographic proxy for prey and determined significantly greater upwelling between 2013 and 2015 than low upwelling years between 2016 and 2018. We hypothesize that these upwelling patterns created ecosystem shifts in primary productivity and zooplankton prey of gray whales, causing carry©\over effects between foraging success and body condition in subsequent years. This study demonstrates the value of monitoring whale body condition to better understand temporal variation in foraging success, and potentially detect and describe the causes of anomalous changes in whale population health, such as the 2019 gray whale mortality event.

Here is a link to the full article:

Best regards,

Leila S. Lemos, PhD
Geospatial Ecology of Marine Megafauna Laboratory
Oregon State University

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