The biology of South African Bryde's whales
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The biology of South African Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera brydei/edeni), with a focus on the inshore form, was investigated through estimates of abundance and survival rate, seasonality of occurrence and variation in mitochondrial and nuclear DNA. Photographs, sightings data and biopsy samples were collected in Plettenberg Bay, on the south-east coast of South Africa. Additional genetic material was obtained from the Iziko South African Museum, Marine and Coastal Management, and the Port Elizabeth Museum. Mark-recapture methods applied to photo-identification data were used to estimate abundance and survival rate. Estimates of abundance ranged from 130 to 250 (CV = 0.07 - 0.38) and the estimated annual survival rate was 0.93 (CV = 0.047, 95% CI = 0.852 - 1.0). Seasonal increases in the encounter rate and number of individual whales were observed during summer and autumn, with a peak in April, which corresponded to increased feeding activity and larger average aggregation sizes. Chlorophyll-a, sea surface temperature and wind speed were all significant factors in explaining the variability in the occurrence of whales. No seasonality in the occurrence of calves was detected. Mitochondrial DNA control region sequences (685bp) were compared to published sequences. This confirmed the offshore form as Balaenoptera brydei and the inshore form as closely related to B.brydei, possibly at the sub-specific level, but excluded it as B.edeni. Phylogenetic analyses support complete separation between the two forms. The use of 10 polymorphic microsatellite loci revealed no population structure among the inshore samples (FST = 0.006). Pairwise estimates of relatedness found most individuals to be unrelated, with only a few distant relatives detected.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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