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The Falkland Islands (Malvinas) as sub-Antarctic foraging, migratory and wintering habitat for southern right whales

  • Caroline R. Weir (a1) and Andrew Stanworth (a1)

Abstract

The historical and contemporary presence of southern right whales (SRWs; Eubalaena australis) around the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) has received little recognition. We assessed SRW occurrence in the Falklands via whaling records, a literature review, systematic surveys (boat, aerial and shore-based), and citizen science sightings. The combined data sources indicated a year-round (peaking in austral summer) presence of SRWs in pelagic areas around the Falklands. In contrast, most nearshore records originated in the austral late autumn and winter (May to August), including a marked increase in sightings along the north-east coast during 2017 compared with previous years. The data support spatio-temporal variation in the use of Falklands waters by SRWs. Pelagic waters appear to comprise summer foraging habitat, and may also be used by animals migrating between the Patagonian shelf and feeding grounds located further south and east. The peak numbers observed in nearshore waters occurred earlier in the winter (July) than those on the Argentinean or Brazilian calving grounds (Aug–Oct). Consequently, some whales may have continued migrating northwards to established breeding areas after departing Falklands waters. A component of the south-west Atlantic population could also be using the islands as a novel wintering destination, for mating and/or socializing (no calving has been confirmed to date). The importance of Falklands waters as a multi-use SRW habitat appears to be increasing. The region is important in the context of addressing current knowledge gaps regarding feeding grounds and migratory corridors highlighted in international SRW conservation and management plans for the wider South-west Atlantic.

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Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Caroline R. Weir, E-mail: whales@conservation.org.fk

References

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The Falkland Islands (Malvinas) as sub-Antarctic foraging, migratory and wintering habitat for southern right whales

  • Caroline R. Weir (a1) and Andrew Stanworth (a1)

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