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Keywords:

  • Balaenoptera physalus;
  • Mediterranean fin whale;
  • North Atlantic fin whale;
  • population identity;
  • bioacoustics

Abstract

Archival bottom-mounted audio recorders were deployed in nine different areas of the western Mediterranean Sea, Strait of Gibraltar, and adjacent North Atlantic waters during 2006–2009 to study fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) seasonal presence and population structure. Analysis of 29,822 recording hours revealed typical long, patterned sequences of 20 Hz notes (here called “song”), back-beats, 135–140 Hz notes, and downsweeps. Acoustic parameters (internote interval, note duration, frequency range, center and peak frequencies) were statistically compared among songs and song notes recorded in all areas. Fin whale singers producing songs attributable to the northeastern North Atlantic subpopulation were detected crossing the Strait of Gibraltar and wintering in the southwestern Mediterranean Sea (Alboran basin), while songs attributed to the Mediterranean were detected in the northwest Mediterranean basin. These results suggest that the northeastern North Atlantic fin whale distribution extends into the southwest Mediterranean basin, and spatial and temporal overlap may exist between this subpopulation and the Mediterranean subpopulation. This new interpretation of the fin whale population structure in the western Mediterranean Sea has important ecological and conservation implications. The conventionally accepted distribution ranges of northeastern North Atlantic and Mediterranean fin whale subpopulations should be reconsidered in light of the results from this study.