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Habitat segregation by female humpback whales in Hawaiian waters: avoidance of males?

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Humpback whales congregate annually in low-latitude winter breeding and calving grounds. While on these grounds, females with a dependent calf (‘maternal females’) are sometimes closely attended by one or more male escorts. Using data collected from a shore-based observation platform in the Hawaiian Islands, we tested the hypothesis that the spatial distribution of maternal females is driven primarily by avoidance of males. As predicted, we found that (1) pods containing a calf occurred in significantly shallower water than pods that did not contain a calf, (2) unescorted maternal females occurred in significantly shallower water than escorted maternal females, (3) the number of males escorting a female decreased significantly with decreasing water depth, and (4) the swimming speed of maternal females increased as a function of male presence, with escorted females travelling significantly more rapidly than unescorted females and a significant positive correlation between swimming speed and number of escorts. We suggest that maternal females incur increased energetic costs when escorted by males and consequently position themselves in shallow waters to reduce the likelihood of unwanted male attention.

Affiliations: 1: aSchool of Life, Sport & Social Sciences, Edinburgh Napier University, Sighthill Court, Edinburgh EH11 4BN, UK

10.1163/1568539X-00003151
/content/journals/10.1163/1568539x-00003151
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2016-12-04

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