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Novel Coastal Feeding Area for Eastern South Pacific Fin Whales (Balaenoptera physalus) in Mid-Latitude Humboldt Current Waters off Chile
Abstract: Southern Hemisphere feeding grounds for fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) are known to be located in Antarctic and subantarctic waters. Specific feeding areas outside of these waters were unknown. Fin whales were first reported from inshore Chilean waters in 1993. New spatial and temporal distribution records of these whales in coastal waters of northern Chile are reported for a 28-y study period from 1988 to 2015. Records of a total of 519 animals comprise 179 sightings of which 170 are new and nine are previous reports from the region obtained since 1993. Fin whales were sighted either solitarily or in groups of up to 14 individuals. They have been observed throughout the year, though more often in summer than winter months. Photographic databases reveal repeated observation of certain unique individuals among years, and residence of several individuals over summer months for periods up to 3 mo. The occurrence and re-sighting of fin whale feeding in this area identifies this habitat as a coastal foraging area for these whales, which is the first documented feeding ground for the eastern South Pacific in waters north of the Antarctic. Individuals recorded in Chilean waters are primarily adults; very few juveniles and no calves have been reported. Fin whale presence in coastal areas maximizes vulnerability to human activities like increasing nonregulated whale watching and collisions with vessels transiting the close mari¬time route to Coquimbo harbor.
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