SEPARATING SOUTHERN BLUE WHALE SUBSPECIES BASED ON LENGTH FREQUENCIES OF SEXUALLY MATURE FEMALES

Authors

  • T. A. Branch,

    1. MARAM (Marine Research Assessment and Management Group),
      Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics,
      University of Cape Town,
      Rondebosch 7701, South Africa
      E-mail: tbranch@gmail.com
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  • E. M. N. Abubaker,

    1. African Institute for Mathematical Sciences,
      6 Melrose Road, Muizenberg 7945,
      South Africa
      and
      P. O. Box 321,
      Department of Applied Mathematics,
      University of Khartoum,
      Khartoum 11115, Sudan
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  • S. Mkango,

    1. African Institute for Mathematical Sciences,
      6 Melrose Road,
      Muizenberg 7945, South Africa
      and
      MARAM (Marine Research Assessment and Management Group),
      Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics,
      University of Cape Town,
      Rondebosch 7701, South Africa
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  • D. S. Butterworth

    1. MARAM (Marine Research Assessment and Management Group), Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa
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Abstract

When sexually mature, Antarctic (true) blue whales are substantially longer than pygmy blue whales. To estimate the proportions of these two subspecies in various regions, Bayesian mixture models were fitted to catch length frequencies of sexually mature females. The extent of rounding to 5-ft intervals was also estimated. Antarctic blue whales dominated (99.2%) pelagic catches south of 52°S, whereas pygmy blue whales dominated (99.9%) north of 52°S and in 35°–180°E. South of 60°S, only 0.7% (95% credibility interval 0.5%–1.0%) were pygmy blue whales, lower than the 7% upper bound currently assumed. Shore-based catches from SW Africa and those before 1937 from South Georgia and the South Shetlands were estimated to contain 90%–92% Antarctic blue whales. Actual proportions were probably higher, but these data show evidence of rounding (up to 19% of records), poor length-estimation methods, and other problems. The mean length of sexually mature female Chilean blue whales (77.1 ft, 23.5 m) was intermediate between pygmy (68.9 ft, 21.0 m) and Antarctic blue whales (83.4–86.3 ft, 25.4–26.6 m). A good fit to these data was obtained only by assuming that the Chilean whales are a separate subspecies or distinctive population. This finding is also consistent with their discrete distribution, and genetic and call type differences, compared to Antarctic and pygmy blue whales.

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