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Keywords:

  • diving and foraging behavior;
  • krill;
  • spatial analysis;
  • whales;
  • Antarctica

Abstract

For closely related sympatric species to coexist, they must differ to some degree in their ecological requirements or niches (e.g., diets) to avoid interspecific competition. Baleen whales in the Antarctic feed primarily on krill, and the large sympatric prewhaling community suggests resource partitioning among these species or a nonlimiting prey resource. In order to examine ecological differences between sympatric humpback and minke whales around the Western Antarctic Peninsula, we made measurements of the physical environment, observations of whale distribution, and concurrent acoustic measurements of krill aggregations. Mantel's tests and classification and regression tree models indicate both similarities and differences in the spatial associations between humpback and minke whales, environmental features, and prey. The data suggest (1) similarities (proximity to shore) and differences (prey abundance versus deep water temperatures) in horizontal spatial distribution patterns, (2) unambiguous vertical resource partitioning with minke whales associating with deeper krill aggregations across a range of spatial scales, and (3) that interference competition between these two species is unlikely. These results add to the paucity of ecological knowledge relating baleen whales and their prey in the Antarctic and should be considered in conservation and management efforts for Southern Ocean cetaceans and ecosystems.