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Biogeographic characterization of blue whale song worldwide: Using song to identify populations


Blue whale songs provide a measure for characterising worldwide blue whale population structure. These songs are divided into nine regional types, which maintain a stable character. Five of the nine song types have been recorded over time spans greater than 30 years showing no significant change in character. The nine song types can be divided into those containing only simple tonal components (high latitude North Pacific, North Atlantic and Southern Ocean song types), those comprised of complex pulsed units in addition to the tonal components (Pacific Ocean margin song types from California, Chile and New Zealand), and those which have the greatest complexity of all and the longest cycling times (Indian Ocean song types from Sri Lanka, Fremantle and Diego Garcia). We suggest that temporally stable differences in song provide another characteristic for comparison with genetic and morphological data when defining blue whale populations. Furthermore, as Mellinger and Barlow (2003) recommend, when there is a lack of other data or lack of clarity in other data sets, evidence of distinct differences in songs between areas should be used as a provisional hypothesis about population structure when making management decisions. Worldwide study is needed to better understand the various populations and subspecies within species like the blue whale that have large geographic distributions and have both migrating and resident populations.

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