Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the South Pacific breeding grounds : an allocation from feeding areas and an abundance estimate of whales specific to French Polynesia waters Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/1544bt397

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  • South Pacific humpback whales were devastated by commercial whaling in their Antarctic feeding areas during the 20th century. Understanding migratory connections and current abundance of these isolated breeding stocks is crucial for the allocation of historical Antarctic catches in population dynamic models used to assess current recovery. However, only a small number of migratory connections have been documented between Oceania breeding stocks within the South Pacific and feeding areas in the Antarctic. In addition, little is known about abundance of these stocks which encompass a vast oceanic region. For this thesis I first used mixed-stock analysis (MSA) to allocate migratory connections from four Antarctic feeding areas (n=142) to seven South Pacific breeding stocks (n=1,373), including four in Oceania, based on genetic marker frequencies. The use of this method was justified by the breeding stocks showing genetic differentiation at the haplotype level with an F[subscript ST] value of 0.027 (p-value <0.001). The results showed a relatively strong connection of Western Australia to Antarctic Area IV, Tonga to the border of Antarctic Area VI/I, Colombia to the Antarctic Peninsula, and a split allocation of Eastern Australia and New Caledonia to Antarctic Area V. This study provides the first population-level information supporting previous individual-based studies that humpback whale migration may not necessarily be direct north south. Next, utilizing capture-recapture methodology of unique humpback whale fluke photographs, I estimated abundance of one of the least studied Oceania breeding stocks, French Polynesia, a stock which also showed no significant migratory allocation using MSA. Taking into consideration the possible advantages of using Quality Control (QC) photographs to minimize bias in matching, estimates were generated using the complete photo catalogue and also using only photographs adhering to QC criteria. I found that the choice of using QC has an effect on the abundance generated and discuss the implications of this finding. Despite the photo catalogue used, the French Polynesia stock is estimated to number less than 1,900 individuals. Lastly, to provide additional information on the French Polynesia stock I used photo-identification to compare French Polynesia whales to whales in the Antarctic Peninsula and Strait of Magellan (Antarctic Area I), a possible migratory connection suggested by previous microsatellite genotyping. No conclusive matches were found. Although this does not discount the possibility of a few migrants traveling between these regions it does indicate the Antarctic Peninsula and the Strait of Magellan are not primary feeding areas of French Polynesia. This new information regarding abundance and migration of French Polynesia whales is important for the Comprehensive Assessment of Southern Hemisphere humpback whales. This document is currently being completed as the International Whaling Commission considers the next critical steps in recovery for Oceania humpback whales stocks.
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