Modeling changes in baleen whale seasonal abundance, timing of migration, and environmental variables to explain the sudden rise in entanglements in California

Last modified: 
April 24, 2021 - 10:40pm
Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2021
Date published: 04/2021
Authors: Kaytlin Ingman, Ellen Hines, Piero Mazzini, Cotton Rockwood, Nadav Nur, Jaime Jahncke
Journal title: PLOS ONE
Volume: 16
Issue: 4
Pages: e0248557

We document changes in the number of sightings and timing of humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae), blue (Balaenoptera musculus), and gray (Eschrichtius robustus) whale migratory phases in the vicinity of the Farallon Islands, California. We hypothesized that changes in the timing of migration off central California were driven by local oceanography, regional upwelling, and basin-scale climate conditions. Using 24 years of daily whale counts collected from Southeast Farallon Island, we developed negative binomial regression models to evaluate trends in local whale sightings over time. We then used linear models to assess trends in the timing of migration, and to identify potential environmental drivers. These drivers included local, regional and basin-scale patterns; the latter included the El Niño Southern Oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and the North Pacific Gyre Oscillation, which influence, wind-driven upwelling, and overall productivity in the California Current System. We then created a forecast model to predict the timing of migration. Humpback whale sightings significantly increased over the study period, but blue and gray whale counts did not, though there was variability across the time series. Date of breeding migration (departure) for all species showed little to no change, whereas date of migration towards feeding areas (arrival) occurred earlier for humpback and blue whales. Timing was significantly influenced by a mix of local oceanography, regional, and basin-scale climate variables. Earlier arrival time without concomitant earlier departure time results in longer periods when blue and humpback whales are at risk of entanglement in the Gulf of the Farallones. We maintain that these changes have increased whale exposure to pot and trap fishery gear off the central California coast during the spring, elevating the risk of entanglements. Humpback entanglement rates were significantly associated with increased counts and early arrival in central California. Actions to decrease the temporal overlap between whales and pot/trap fishing gear, particularly when whales arrive earlier in warm water years, would likely decrease the risk of entanglements.

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