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Modeling the relationship of Antarctic minke whales to major ocean boundaries

Abstract

The population size of Antarctic minke whales Balaenoptera bonaerensis has been changing simultaneously with profound changes in the physics, i.e., mesopredator habitat features, of the Southern Ocean. Although the two trends may not be related, distinguishing among the factors responsible requires a better understanding of minke whale habitat preferences. For the first time at a large geographic scale, i.e., between 140° E and 35° W, we use data not constrained by vessels needing to avoid sea ice to model the habitat affinities of this pagophilic mesopredator. Using Maxent, we modeled minke whale proximity to the Antarctic Shelf Break Front (ASBF) and the southern boundary of Antarctic Circumpolar Current (sbACC), as well as association with sea ice, given that global climate change is altering the positions or intensity of these features. We also included water depth and chlorophyll (proxy for productivity) as variables. Minke whale presence data were gathered using strip and line census on 55 cruises on board icebreakers during late spring and summer, 1976–2005. The most important variable was distance to ASBF, followed by water depth and sea-ice concentration. That is, found principally in waters south of the sbACC during summer, minke whales were most abundant near the outer edge of the continental shelf (shallow depth), including areas heavily covered by sea ice. We propose that as the sbACC moves south and sea ice disappears, as projected by global climate models, minke whale habitat will shrink, and likely intra- and inter-specific competition will increase.

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Acknowledgments

All of the data used in this analysis were gathered on vessels supported by the US Antarctic Program. Analysis was funded by a grant from Antarctic Organisms and Ecosystems Program, Antarctic Sciences Division, of the US National Science Foundation (NSF), ANT-0522043; and the writing by ANT-0440643. We thank S Veloz and L Salas for providing advice on modeling methods, A Friedlaender for critical comments on the ms, and T Branch and H Murase for educational discussion. This is a contribution of Southern Ocean GLOBEC (contribution 703), Palmer LTER program, and PRBO Conservation Science (contribution 1815). The authors have no financial stake in NSF and, likewise, what we say herein does not necessarily represent NSF’s views.

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Correspondence to David G. Ainley.

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Ainley, D.G., Jongsomjit, D., Ballard, G. et al. Modeling the relationship of Antarctic minke whales to major ocean boundaries. Polar Biol 35, 281–290 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-011-1075-1

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-011-1075-1

Keywords

  • Antarctic circumpolar current
  • Antarctic minke whale
  • Antarctic shelf break front
  • Climate change
  • Sea ice
  • Southern Ocean