[MARMAM] New Publication: Age-specific behavior and habitat use in humpback whales: implications for vessel strike

Julia Stepanuk julia.stepanuk at stonybrook.edu
Thu Apr 1 13:39:11 PDT 2021

Hello Marmam,

We are excited to announce the publication of our manuscript: "Age-specific
behavior and habitat use in humpback whales: implications for vessel
strike" in Marine Ecology Progress Series.

Our manuscript is available at
https://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v663/p209-222/ or you can contact me
directly for a copy.

ABSTRACT: Vessel strikes are a major threat impacting large whales
globally. Juvenile whales often represent a high proportion of lethal
vessel strikes, but few studies have investigated whether juvenile whales
show different behaviors that might influence their risk of vessel strike.
We evaluated how variability in habitat use and foraging behavior by age
class influences the risk of vessel strike for humpback whales Megaptera
novaeangliae in the New York Bight (NYB), a highly urbanized region with
frequent vessel strikes. We used data from unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)
surveys to compare the habitat use and foraging behavior of adult and
juvenile humpback whales and compared length measurements of foraging
individuals with those confirmed to have been killed by vessel strikes.
Further, using Automatic Information System data, we analyzed the speed and
density of vessel traffic relative to humpback whale habitat use. The vast
majority (93%) of humpback whales confirmed to have been struck by vessels
in the NYB were juveniles. Whales foraging in nearshore waters were
exclusively juveniles that were surface feeding, while both juveniles and
adults foraged cooperatively in offshore waters. Passenger vessel density
and speed were highest in nearshore waters. The habitat use and surface
foraging behavior of juvenile humpback whales may make them particularly
vulnerable to vessel strikes in nearshore waters, and passenger vessels in
these waters may be a risk factor. This work highlights the importance of
understanding age-specific differences in habitat use to better understand
and mitigate the risk of anthropogenic threats to large whales.

Julia Stepanuk

PhD Candidate
M.S. Marine Science
Stony Brook University
Department of Ecology and Evolution
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