Song recordings suggest feeding ground sharing in Southern Hemisphere humpback whales

Resumen: The Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean (ASSO) has one of the highest densities of Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) compared to other polar and subpolar regions, which attracts migratory baleen whale species to aggregate in this area for feeding. Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) also sing extensively while on the Southern Ocean feeding grounds which allows for the exploration of song similarity between feeding grounds and breeding populations which helps to understand population mixing. The results of comparative song analyses between the ASSO and the Ecuadorian and Brazilian breeding populations and recordings from the Chilean, South African and Namibian migration routes/mid-latitude feeding grounds revealed that individuals from at least three humpback whale breeding populations most likely migrate to shared feeding grounds in the ASSO. Humpback whales from different populations potentially mix at different times (i.e., years) at feeding hotspots in variable locations. The ASSO seems to provide sufficient prey resources and seems to present an important area for both cultural and maybe even genetic exchange between populations supporting the maintenance of large gene pools. Assuming that multi-population feeding hotspots are also suitable habitat for krill and other krill-dependent predators, these areas in the ASSO should be carefully managed integrating population, ecosystem and fisheries management.

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