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Antarctic minke whales find ice gaps along the ice edge in foraging grounds of the Indo-Pacific sector (60° E and 140° E) of the Southern Ocean


Antarctic minke whales Balaenoptera bonaerensis are rorquals that migrate to Antarctic waters to forage during the austral summer. Because the species frequents the edges of ice packs in summer, the potential impact of long-term physical environmental changes poses serious conservation concerns. Condition along the ice edge vary regionally, sometimes forming small ice free areas (ice gaps), and little is known about whale movement patterns associated with these small-scale variations in the physical environment. In this study, six minke whales were tracked for an average of 31 days (range 4–77 days) from January to March of 2016 and 2017 between 60° E and 140° E above and off the continental shelf. The tracking data of five animals were fitted to a Bayesian hierarchical switching state-space model assembled from ARGOS data filters to estimate behavioral states. Results show that Antarctic minke whales are likely to search for ice gaps areas and remain there for extended periods until the surrounding ice melts, rather than stay at krill rich shelf breaks or areas with high chlorophyll-a concentration. When no ice gaps were nearby, the whales were likely to move eastward along highly concentrated ice packs to find a gap. Our study found a strong association between minke whale movements and ice dynamics during the summer foraging season in this region.

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Authors thank all crew and researchers of Yushin-maru, Yushin-maru No.2, Yushin-maru No.3 and Kaiyo-maru No.7 who were engaged in the tagging experiments as part of the NEWREP-A cruises. This study was supported by the Fisheries Agency of Japan. We also thank M. Taguchi for providing information on the sex of the minke whales by genetic analyses, and S. Ohsumi, Y. Fujise, T. Tamura, L. Pastene and D. Goodman for their helpful comments. Comments from five anonymous reviewers helped to refine the manuscript further. We are thankful for the helpful advice.

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Correspondence to Kenji Konishi.

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The tagging experiments on the Antarctic minke whale were conducted under the non-lethal research component of the New Scientific Whale Research Program in the Antarctic Ocean (NEWREP-A). The necessity of the tagging on the Antarctic minke whales and its procedure on this program has been opened to International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee and reviewed by a review panel selected from IWC specialists (IWC 2016). This process was substituted for ethical and protocol standards. The NEWREP-A program was conducted under the permission from The Fishery Agency of Japan and funded by the Institute of Cetacean Research. We did not receive funding from a commercial source and declare that there are no conflicts of interest.

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Locations of deployment (star) and tracking locations of the Antarctic minke whale (#160299) at every 6 hours estimated by the hSSSM in January (a) and February (b) in 2017. For further explanation, see the caption for Fig. 2. Supplementary file1 (PDF 241 kb)

Supplementary file2 (PDF 53 kb)

Supplementary file3 (PDF 477 kb)

Supplementary file4 (PDF 164 kb)

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Konishi, K., Isoda, T., Bando, T. et al. Antarctic minke whales find ice gaps along the ice edge in foraging grounds of the Indo-Pacific sector (60° E and 140° E) of the Southern Ocean. Polar Biol 43, 343–357 (2020).

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