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SWIMMING SPEEDS OF SINGING AND NON-SINGING HUMPBACK WHALES DURING MIGRATION

Authors

  • Michael J. Noad,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Veterinary Anatomy and Pathology, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia E-mail: mnoad@uq.edu.au
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  • Douglas H. Cato

    1. Defence Science and Technology Organisation, P. O. Box 44, Pyrmont, NSW 2009, Australia and University of Sydney Institute of Marine Science, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
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Current address: School of Veterinary Science, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland 4072, Australia.

Abstract

Limited data exist on swimming speeds of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) and none on swimming speeds of singing whales during migration. We tracked humpback whales visually and acoustically during migration from the breeding grounds past our study site on the east coast of Australia (latitude 26°28′S). The mean swimming speed for whales while singing was 2.5 km/h, significantly less than for non-singing whales with a mean of 4.0 km/h but significantly greater than the mean of 1.6 km/h observed for singing whales on the Hawaiian breeding grounds. Between song sessions, there was no significant difference in speeds between whales that had been singing and other whales. Migration speeds were less for whales while singing but increased during the season. Although humpback whales can swim rapidly while singing (maximum observed 15.6 km/h), they generally do not do so, even during migration. Slower migration by singers would delay their return to the polar feeding areas and may be costly, but may be a strategy to provide access to more females.

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