Characterizing a Foraging Hotspot for Short- Finned Pilot Whales and Blainville’s Beaked Whales Located off the West Side of Hawai‘i Island by Using Tagging and Oceanographic Data


Abecassis, M., J. Polovina, R.W. Baird, A. Copeland, J.C. Drazen, R. Komokos, E. Oleson, Y. Jia, G.S. Schorr, D.L. Webster, and R.D. Andrews. 2015. Characterizing a foraging hotspot for short-finned pilot whales and Blainville’s beaked whales off the west side of the Island of Hawai‘i with tagging and oceanographic data. PLOS ONE in press.


Satellite tagging data for short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) and Blainville’s beaked whales (Mesoplodon densirostris) were used to identify core insular foraging regions off the Kona (west) Coast of Hawai‘i Island. Ship-based active acoustic surveys and oceanographic model output were used in generalized additive models (GAMs) and mixed models to characterize the oceanography of these regions and to examine relationships between whale density and the environment. The regions of highest density for pilot whales and Blainville’s beaked whales were located between the 1000 and 2500 m isobaths and the 250 and 2000 m isobaths, respectively. Both species were associated with slope waters, but given the topography of the area, the horizontal distribution of beaked whales was narrower and located in shallower waters than that of pilot whales. The key oceanographic parameters characterizing the foraging regions were bathymetry, temperature at depth, and a high density of midwater micronekton scattering at 70 kHz in 400–650 m depths that likely represent the island-associated deep mesopelagic boundary community and serve as prey for the prey of the whales. Thus, our results suggest that off the Kona Coast, and potentially around other main Hawaiian Islands, the deep mesopelagic boundary community is key to a food web that supports insular cetacean populations.

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