Movement patterns of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) reoccupying a Brazilian breeding ground
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The population of humpback whales from breeding stock A is increasing, and little is known about the routes used by humpbacks that move north of the main calving area of Brazil, the Abrolhos Bank. The aim of this study was to describe the movements of humpback whales in a reoccupation wintering area (Serra Grande, Bahia state, Brazil) based on land-based surveys to test if movement patterns change during the season and between years, due to group composition, behavioral state, and distance to the coast. The mean leg speed of the groups sighted was 6.88 (+/- 2.92) km/h, and leg speed was positively correlated with distance to the coast. There was an increase in leg speed and distance to the coast with increasing number of escorts in the groups with calves. The mean linearity value for group trajectory was 0.81 (+/- 0.19) and the mean reorientation rate was 25.72 (+/- 19.09) degrees/min. We observed a predominance of trajectories heading south throughout the study. Groups exhibiting more erratic movements early in the season, and groups moving south showed more linear trajectories than groups moving north, indicating the beginning of their migration back to the feeding grounds. Energy conserving strategies and social context affect the movements of humpback whales in Serra Grande, resulting in the observed patterns of the reoccupation of available and suitable habitat north of Abrolhos. Thereby, special attention should be given managing activities with the potential to disturb or displace whales using the region to calve and breed.