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Utilizing Occupancy Models and Platforms-of-Opportunity to Assess Area Use of Mother-Calf Humpback Whales

DOI: 10.4236/ojms.2018.82014, PP. 276-292

Keywords: Humpback Whale, Occupancy Model, Platform of Opportunity, Whale and Dolphin Tracker, Area Use

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The Hawaiian Islands, and particularly the Maui 4-island region, are a critical breeding and calving habitat for humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) belonging to the Hawaii distinct population segment. Our aims were to test the use of platforms-of-opportunity to determine trends in mother-calf pod use of the region and to present opportunistic platforms as an alternative method of long-term, cross-seasonal monitoring. Data were collected from whale watching vessels over a 4-year period and analyzed using occupancy models to determine the probability of habitat use of pods with calves and pods without calves within the study area. Detection probability was influenced by survey effort and month for all pod types with detection of adult only pods further influenced by year. Pods with a calf showed a preference for shallow (<100 meters) low latitude waters (<20.7°N), while pods without a calf preferred deeper waters (>75 meters). Results presented here align with previous work, both in Hawaii and in other breeding grounds, which show a distinct segregation of mothers with a calf from other age-classes of humpback whales. The need for long-term continuous monitoring of cetacean populations is crucial to ensure species conservation. Data collected aboard platforms-of-opportunity, as presented here, provide important insight on humpback whale spatial and temporal distribution, which are essential for species protection and management.


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