TitleBehavioural estimation of blue whale movements in the Northeast Pacific from state-space model analysis of satellite tracks
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsBailey, H, Mate, B, Palacios, DM, Irvine, L, Bograd, SJ, Costa, DP
JournalEndangered Species Research
Keywordssatellite telemtry

Baleen whale migrations typically consist of annual movements between productive, high-latitude feeding grounds and unproductive, low-latitude breeding grounds. However, the actual migratory path and whales’ behaviour in these locations are poorly known. The objectives of this study were to apply a switching state-space model to the satellite tracks of blue whales Balaenoptera musculus in the Northeast Pacific to improve location estimation and gain insight into the migratory (transiting) and foraging (area-restricted search, ARS) behaviours of this population. During the period 1993 to 2007, Argos satellite tags were attached to 159 whales, mainly off the coast of California during late summer, of which 92 tracks were >7 d in duration. There was generally a southward movement during the winter to Baja California and to an area west of the Costa Rica Dome, in the eastern tropical Pacific (ETP). Travel speeds during transit were significantly faster than during ARS movements (mean = 3.70 and 1.05 km h–1, respectively). On average, 29% of the track time was spent in ARS, and the mean time within an ARS patch was 21 d. The occurrence of ARS behaviour throughout the migration cycle suggests that these animals may forage year-round, but could also indicate limited movements during the reproductive season. The extent of their northward migration from Baja California to Washington varied significantly interannually, likely in response to environmental changes affecting their prey. The long track durations obtained from electronic tagging have provided essential new information about the critical habitats of Northeast Pacific blue whales.