Horizontal niche partitioning of humpback and fin whales around the West Antarctic Peninsula: evidence from a concurrent whale and krill survey
A dedicated aerial cetacean survey was conducted concurrently to a standardised net trawl survey for krill in order to investigate distribution patterns of large whales and different krill species and to investigate relationships of these. Distance sampling data were used to produce density surface models for humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae) and fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) around the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). Abundance for both species was estimated over two strata in the Bransfield Strait and Drake Passage. Distinct distribution patterns suggest horizontal niche partitioning of the two whale species around the WAP, with fin whales aggregating at the shelf edge of the South Shetland Islands in the Drake Passage and humpback whales in the Bransfield Strait. Krill biomass estimated from the concurrent krill survey was used along with CTD data from the same expedition, bathymetric parameters and satellite data on chlorophyll-a and ice concentration to model krill distribution. Comparisons of the predicted distributions of both whale species with the predicted distributions of Euphausia superba, Euphausia crystallorophias and Thysanoessa macrura suggest a complex relationship rather than a straightforward correlation between krill and whales. However, results indicate that fin whales were feeding in an area dominated by T. macrura, while humpback whales were found in areas of higher E. superba biomass. Our results provide abundance estimates for humpback whales and, for the first time, fin whales in the WAP and contribute important information on feeding ecology and habitat use of these two species in the Southern Ocean.