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Pod Characteristics of Migrating Humpback Whales (Megaptera Novaeangliae) Off the East Australian Coast

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The size and sex composition of migrating humpback whale pods were investigated off the east Australian coast. Two hundred and thirty one singletons, 257 pairs, 63 trios, 7 quads and 4 pods containing more than 5 individuals were observed during two land-based surveys carried out throughout the northward migration in 1991 and 1993. Generally humpback whales migrated northward towards the breeding area in pods of I or 2 individuals. In 1992, a biopsy study was carried out throughout the northward and southward migrations. Pods migrating southward (mean = 2.59, SE = 0.19) towards the feeding areas were significantly larger than those travelling north (mean = 1.75, SE = 0.03). The sex of 134 individuals in 63 complete pods was determined by molecular analysis of skin biopsies. Male humpback whales were found in larger pods than females. The most common pod type observed was the male-female pair, which is suggestive of either mating on migration and/or mate-guarding. Males were found associated together frequently. Competitive behaviour was observed during both the northward and southward migrations. The sexing of all individuals within 8 competitive pods indicated that not all contained a female. Although competitive behaviour was observed during the migration, most male-male associations were charactcrised by non-agonistic and occasionally cooperative interactions. We suggest there is a behavioural continuum on migration between the feeding and breeding grounds which is not governed solely by spatial proximity to the terminus. The pod characteristics of humpback whales on their return migration to the feeding grounds showed greatest similarity to those observed on breeding grounds elsewhere. In conclusion, our study showed that the migration of humpback whales is more

Affiliations: 1: Department of Veterinary Anatomy, The University of Sydney, N.S.W. 2006, Australia


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