Cook Islands Whale Research

Avarua, Cook Islands

Cook Islands Whale Research

Avarua, Cook Islands
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Garrigue C.,British Petroleum | Constantine R.,University of Auckland | Poole M.,Marine Mammal Research | Hauser N.A.N.,Cook Islands Whale Research | And 7 more authors.
Journal of Cetacean Research and Management | Year: 2011

The movement of individual humpback whales between regional breeding grounds of Oceania (South Pacific) was documented by individual identification photographs collected from 1999 to 2004. Photographs were collected with comparable effort across the six years in four primary island breeding grounds: New Caledonia, Tonga (Vava'u) the Cook Islands and French Polynesia (Mo'orea and Rurutu); with smaller effort in adjacent regions: Vanuatu,.Fiji, Samoa, Niue and American Samoa. Interchange among wintering grounds was assessed first with all usable photographs included in each regional catalogue, representing 1,080 regional sightings (including within-region and between-region resightings) of 949 individual whales from Oceania. From this, 28 cases of movement between (mostly adjacent) regions were documented. Previously undocumented interchange was found between regions of central Oceania and the western South Pacific. No individual was sighted in more than two regions during this six-year period. The documented movement between regions was one-directional, except for one individual sighted first in French Polynesia, then in American Samoa and then back in French Polynesia (each in different years). Only one whale was resighted in more than one region during the same winter season. No directional trend was apparent and movement between regions did not seem to be sex specific. A systematic quality control review of all catalogues was then implemented to calculate standardised indices of within-region return and betweenregion interchange, resulting in a quality controlled catalogue of 776 regional sightings of 659 individuals. The standardised indices confirmed that the probability of between-region interchange was low, relative to within-region return, supporting the assumption of multiple management units or stocks in Oceania. The relative isolation of breeding regions and the movement of individuals across the longitudinal borders of Antarctic management Areas V and VI has important implications for the allocation of historical catches from the Antarctic and therefore, for assessing current levels of recovery for breeding stocks.


Garrigue C.,British Petroleum | Franklin T.,Southern Cross University of Australia | Franklin T.,University of Otago | Constantine R.,University of Auckland | And 13 more authors.
Journal of Cetacean Research and Management | Year: 2011

The interchange of individual humpback whales between the wintering grounds of Oceania (South Pacific) and the east coast of Australia were documented by individual identification photographs collected from 1999 to 2004. Interchange was assessed using regional catalogues of fluke photographs, totalling 672 individuals from Oceania (represented by New Zealand, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Niue, Cook Island, French Polynesia and American Samoa) and 1,242 individuals from Hervey Bay and Byron Bay representing the southbound and the northbound migration along the east coast of Australia (EA). Overall, there were seven documented movements between EA and Oceania. Four instances of movement of four individuals were documented between EA and the closest breeding grounds of New Caledonia. A further three movements were recorded between EA and a small catalogue (n = 13) from the New Zealand migratory corridor. In contrast, during this same period, 20 cases of interchange were documented among nine breeding grounds: French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Niue, American Samoa, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. The low level of interchange between Oceania and the east coast of Australia has important implications for understanding the stock structure and abundance of humpback whales in the South Pacific.


Carroll E.L.,University of St. Andrews | Brooks L.,Southern Cross University of Australia | Baker C.S.,University of Auckland | Baker C.S.,Oregon State University | And 8 more authors.
Endangered Species Research | Year: 2015

Capture-recapture studies offer a powerful tool to assess abundance, survival and population rate of change (γ). A previous capture-recapture study, based on DNA profiles, estimated that the IUCN-listed Endangered Oceania population of humpback whales had a superpopulation size of 4329 whales (95% confidence limits, CL: 3345, 5315) and γ = 1.03 (95% CL: 0.90-1.18) for the period 1999-2005. This low estimate of γ contrasts with the high estimated γ for the neighbouring east Australia population (1.11; 95% CL: 1.105-1.113). A future assessment of Oceania humpbacks through capture-recapture methodology has been proposed to meet 3 objectives: (1) estimate population size with a coefficient of variation of < 20%, and detect if γ is significantly different from (2) 1.00 or (3) γ of east Australia. The proposed survey design involves using DNA profiles to identify whales on principal breeding grounds within Oceania in proportion to the abundance of whales on these grounds over the 10 to 12 wk wintering period, to minimise capture heterogeneity between individuals and to maximise capture probabilities. Simulations of the idealised survey design incorporating data from the previous surveys (1999-2005) with 3 new survey years were conducted under a range of scenarios for the 'true' demographic status of the population. Simulations of the entire Oceania region showed that the proposed design will give sufficient power to meet objectives (1) under all scenarios, (2) if the true γ ≥ 1.05 and (3) if the true γ ≤ 1.05. Region-specific simulations suggested there was scope to test for differences in recovery between principal breeding sites within Oceania. © The authors 2015.


Constantine R.,University of Auckland | Steel D.,Oregon State University | Allen J.,College of the Atlantic | Anderson M.,Southern Cross University of Australia | And 33 more authors.
Marine Biology | Year: 2014

Understanding the dynamics of population recovery is particularly complex when an organism has multiple, remote breeding and feeding grounds separated by one of the longest known migration routes. This study reports on the most comprehensive assessment of humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) movements between remote Antarctic waters south of New Zealand and east Australia (EA), and the migratory corridors and breeding grounds of Australia and Oceania. A total of 112 individual whales were identified; 57 from microsatellites and 61 by fluke with 23 % (n = 26) matched to sites outside Antarctica. Despite large datasets from other southern regions being included in the comparison, the whales were predominantly linked to EA (n = 24). Only two matches to the Oceania catalogues directly north was surprising; therefore the primary feeding grounds of these endangered whales still remain unknown. The confirmation of the Balleny Islands as an important feeding ground for EA whales could provide an insight into reasons behind the rapid recovery of this population. Determining the feeding grounds of Oceania's whales may explain whether prey energetics or migration length are limiting factors to their recovery and will allow an understanding of future ecosystem changes in these whales. © 2014 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.


Garland E.C.,University of Queensland | Noad M.J.,University of Queensland | Goldizen A.W.,University of Queensland | Lilley M.S.,IBM | And 6 more authors.
Journal of the Acoustical Society of America | Year: 2013

Humpback whales have a continually evolving vocal sexual display, or "song," that appears to undergo both evolutionary and "revolutionary" change. All males within a population adhere to the current content and arrangement of the song. Populations within an ocean basin share similarities in their songs; this sharing is complex as multiple variations of the song (song types) may be present within a region at any one time. To quantitatively investigate the similarity of song types, songs were compared at both the individual singer and population level using the Levenshtein distance technique and cluster analysis. The highly stereotyped sequences of themes from the songs of 211 individuals from populations within the western and central South Pacific region from 1998 through 2008 were grouped together based on the percentage of song similarity, and compared to qualitatively assigned song types. The analysis produced clusters of highly similar songs that agreed with previous qualitative assignments. Each cluster contained songs from multiple populations and years, confirming the eastward spread of song types and their progressive evolution through the study region. Quantifying song similarity and exchange will assist in understanding broader song dynamics and contribute to the use of vocal displays as population identifiers. © 2013 Acoustical Society of America.


Garland E.C.,University of Queensland | Garland E.C.,South Pacific Whale Research Consortium | Goldizen A.W.,University of Queensland | Rekdahl M.L.,University of Queensland | And 11 more authors.
Current Biology | Year: 2011

Cultural transmission, the social learning of information or behaviors from conspecifics [1-5], is believed to occur in a number of groups of animals, including primates [1, 6-9], cetaceans [4, 10, 11], and birds [3, 12, 13]. Cultural traits can be passed vertically (from parents to offspring), obliquely (from the previous generation via a nonparent model to younger individuals), or horizontally (between unrelated individuals from similar age classes or within generations) [4]. Male humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) have a highly stereotyped, repetitive, and progressively evolving vocal sexual display or "song" [14-17] that functions in sexual selection (through mate attraction and/or male social sorting) [18-20]. All males within a population conform to the current version of the display (song type), and similarities may exist among the songs of populations within an ocean basin [16, 17, 21]. Here we present a striking pattern of horizontal transmission: multiple song types spread rapidly and repeatedly in a unidirectional manner, like cultural ripples, eastward through the populations in the western and central South Pacific over an 11-year period. This is the first documentation of a repeated, dynamic cultural change occurring across multiple populations at such a large geographic scale. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.


Schmitt N.T.,Australian Antarctic Division | Schmitt N.T.,Australian National University | Double M.C.,Australian Antarctic Division | Baker S.,Oregon State University | And 21 more authors.
Journal of Cetacean Research and Management | Year: 2014

In understanding the impact of commercial whaling, it is important to estimate the mixing of low latitude breeding populations on Antarctic feeding grounds, particularly the endangered humpback whale populations of Oceania. This paper estimates the degree of genetic differentiation among the putative populations of Oceania (New Caledonia, Tonga, the Cook Islands and French Polynesia) and Australia (Western Australia and eastern Australia) using ten microsatellite loci and mtDNA, assesses the power of the data for a mixed-stock analysis, determines ways to improve statistical power for future studies and estimates the population composition of Antarctic samples collected in 2010 south of New Zealand and eastern Australia. A large proportion of individuals could not be assigned to a population of origin (> 52%) using a posterior probability threshold of > 0.90. The mixed-stock analysis simulations however, produced accurate results with humpback whales reapportioned to their population of origin above the 90% threshold for Western Australia, New Caledonia and Oceania grouped using a combined mtDNA and microsatellite dataset. Removing the Cook Islands, considered a transient region for humpback whales, from the simulation analysis increased the ability to reapportion Tonga from 86% to 89% and French Polynesia from 89% to 92%. Breeding ground sample size was found to be a factor influencing the accuracy of population reapportionment whereas increasing the mixture or feeding ground sample size improved the precision of results. The mixed-stock analysis of our Antarctic samples revealed substantial contributions from both eastern Australia (53.2%, 6.8% SE) and New Caledonia (43.7%, 5.5% SE) [with Oceania contributing 46.8% (5.9% SE)] but not Western Australia. Despite the need for more samples to improve estimates of population allocation, our study strengthens the emerging genetic and non-genetic evidence that Antarctic waters south of New Zealand and eastern Australia are used by humpback whales from both eastern Australia and the more vulnerable breeding population of New Caledonia, representing Oceania.


Garland E.C.,University of Queensland | Garland E.C.,South Pacific Whale Research Consortium | Garland E.C.,National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Garland E.C.,University of St. Andrews | And 15 more authors.
Conservation Biology | Year: 2015

For cetaceans, population structure is traditionally determined by molecular genetics or photographically identified individuals. Acoustic data, however, has provided information on movement and population structure with less effort and cost than traditional methods in an array of taxa. Male humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) produce a continually evolving vocal sexual display, or song, that is similar among all males in a population. The rapid cultural transmission (the transfer of information or behavior between conspecifics through social learning) of different versions of this display between distinct but interconnected populations in the western and central South Pacific region presents a unique way to investigate population structure based on the movement dynamics of a song (acoustic) display. Using 11 years of data, we investigated an acoustically based population structure for the region by comparing stereotyped song sequences among populations and years. We used the Levenshtein distance technique to group previously defined populations into (vocally based) clusters based on the overall similarity of their song display in space and time. We identified the following distinct vocal clusters: western cluster, 1 population off eastern Australia; central cluster, populations around New Caledonia, Tonga, and American Samoa; and eastern region, either a single cluster or 2 clusters, one around the Cook Islands and the other off French Polynesia. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that each breeding aggregation represents a distinct population (each occupied a single, terminal node) in a metapopulation, similar to the current understanding of population structure based on genetic and photo-identification studies. However, the central vocal cluster had higher levels of song-sharing among populations than the other clusters, indicating that levels of vocal connectivity varied within the region. Our results demonstrate the utility and value of using culturally transmitted vocal patterns as a way of defining connectivity to infer population structure. We suggest vocal patterns be incorporated by the International Whaling Commission in conjunction with traditional methods in the assessment of structure. © 2015, Society for Conservation Biology.

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