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Timing is everything: Drivers of interannual variability in blue whale migration.

  • Author(s): Szesciorka, Angela R
  • Ballance, Lisa T
  • Širović, Ana
  • Rice, Ally
  • Ohman, Mark D
  • Hildebrand, John A
  • Franks, Peter JS
  • et al.
Abstract

Blue whales need to time their migration from their breeding grounds to their feeding grounds to avoid missing peak prey abundances, but the cues they use for this are unknown. We examine migration timing (inferred from the local onset and cessation of blue whale calls recorded on seafloor-mounted hydrophones), environmental conditions (e.g., sea surface temperature anomalies and chlorophyll a), and prey (spring krill biomass from annual net tow surveys) during a 10 year period (2008-2017) in waters of the Southern California Region where blue whales feed in the summer. Colder sea surface temperature anomalies the previous season were correlated with greater krill biomass the following year, and earlier arrival by blue whales. Our results demonstrate a plastic response of blue whales to interannual variability and the importance of krill as a driving force behind migration timing. A decadal-scale increase in temperature due to climate change has led to blue whales extending their overall time in Southern California. By the end of our 10-year study, whales were arriving at the feeding grounds more than one month earlier, while their departure date did not change. Conservation strategies will need to account for increased anthropogenic threats resulting from longer times at the feeding grounds.

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