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Keywords:

  • humpback whale;
  • Megaptera novaeangliae;
  • song;
  • migration;
  • North Atlantic;
  • Europe;
  • Britain;
  • acoustic monitoring;
  • SOSUS

Abstract

From October 1996 through September 1998, we used bottom-mounted hydrophone arrays to monitor deep-water areas north and west of the British Isles for songs of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). Singing humpbacks were consistently detected between October and March from the Shetland-Faroe Islands south to waters west of the English Channel. Temporal and geographic patterns of song detections, and movements of individually tracked whales, exhibited a southwesterly trend over this period, but with no corresponding northward trend between April and September. These results, together with a review of historical data from this area, suggest that the offshore waters of the British Isles represent a migration corridor for humpbacks, at least some of which summer in Norwegian (and possibly eastern Icelandic) waters. The migratory destination of the detected animals remains unknown, but the limited data suggest that these whales are bound primarily for the West Indies rather than historical breeding areas off the northwestern coast of Africa. Humpbacks detected in British waters after early to mid-March probably do not undertake a full migration to the tropics. These data provide further evidence that singing is not confined to tropical waters in winter, but occurs commonly on migration even in high latitudes.