The Project
Tracking Whales with Satellite Telemetry

Knowing what whales do during their ocean travels supplies valuable information for their conservation, because it makes it possible to identify areas of major importance in their life cycle. It also supplies relevant information to emphasize the importance of maritime protected areas, and to elaborate recommendations for the regulation of human activities (fishing, the gas and oil industry and maritime transport of cargo) which could potentially impact these large marine mammals.

Last generation satellite transmitters provide the oceanic location of each individual, showing various positions per day. Analysis of this data, in association with oceanic variables, will reveal the way in which these marine mammals use diverse marine environments, and will show if they are traveling or feeding. After a few months the transmitters detach, not having affected either the behavior or the health of the individuals carrying them.

During September 2019, 23 whales were equipped with satellite transmitters in Golfo Nuevo, Chubut Province. The real time data collected will permit the detailed monitoring of these whales’ travels and their habits. The information generated by this project is extraordinary and enormously useful both locally and regionally. The monitoring results of past years, combined with the results of this year’s and future years’ satellite tracking, will be of fundamental importance for the management and conservation of this emblematic species.

#TrackingWhales

is a collaborative research project in which various agencies participate:
CESIMAR/CONICET, CIMAS/CONICET, ESCIMar (National University of Comahue), Patagonia Natural Foundation, Whale Conservation Institute (ICB – Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas), NOAA, Marine Ecology and Telemetry Research, Aqualie Institute, University of California – Davis, Southern Right Whale Health Monitoring Program, and WCS Argentina (Wildlife Conservation Society, Argentina).

Background

The southern right whale satellite tracking project began in 2014, within the Management Plan for the Conservation of the Southern Right Whale of the Southwest Atlantic, wherein Argentina plays a fundamental role. The project has the support of the International Whaling Commission, the Argentine Chancellery, and the governments of Chubut and Río Negro provinces.

Between 2014 and 2018 the tracking project has followed the trajectories of 24 individuals: their movements within the northern Patagonian gulfs, along the Argentine maritime coastline, their migration routes, and the southwestern Atlantic areas where they go to feed.

On average the instruments transmitted data for 100 days, but there were exceptions. “Papillon”, a whale whose transmitter was attached in 2014, transmitted data continuously for 8 months, from when he left Golfo Nuevo until he returned to the same area a year later. The total distance traveled by “Papillion” during this period was 7800 kilometers.

In general the whales moved across the continental shelf in an easterly direction, reaching the continental slope and the deep waters of the South Atlantic Basin. In some cases they continued their travels farther east to feeding zones close to the South Georgia Islands and the South Sandwich Islands, even reaching as far as areas in the northern section of the Weddell Sea. Other individuals swam northwards along the coasts of Río Negro and Buenos Aires provinces, to the area at the mouth of the Río de la Plata (River Plate).

Satellite tracking has revealed behavior patterns of this whale population never before described: their use of the northern Patagonian gulfs, their daily distances traveled and the velocities thereof, and other relevant information.

The map shows the route of the young individual “Papillon”, whose satellite transmitter was attached in Golfo Nuevo, Chubut Province, in 2014. The other three routes shown are those of three adult whales who had satellite transmitters attached in Golfo San Matías, Río Negro Province, in 2017.

Acknowledgements

This project is made possible due to the support of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Permits for the studies were granted by authorities of the provinces of Chubut and Río Negro. Special thanks are due to the Wildlife Management Ministry and the Tourism Ministry of the province of Chubut and the Office of Environment and Sustainable Development of the province of Río Negro (Dirección de Flora y Fauna Silvestre y Ministerio de Turismo de Chubut y a la Secretaria de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sustentable de Río Negro).

We also appreciate the support provided by the Argentine Naval Prefecture of Puerto Pirámides and Puerto Madryn, the Association of Whale watching Guides and the Community of Puerto Pirámides.

The follow up team especially thanks the collaboration provided by the whale watching agencies: HydroSport, Bottazzi, Peke Sosa and Schmidt.

Funding

This project has the financial support of:
CONICET, Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas (ICB), Wildlife Conservation Society,
Instituto Aqualie de Brasil, University of California – Davis, Office of Naval Research (ONR) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States.