Azores Whale Lab

About the lab

Animal movements result from the combined effect of extrinsic and intrinsic factors on behavior and are mediated by the navigational capacities of individuals. Comprehending the context and motivations of cetacean movements, and their ecological consequences is the main focus of the research undertaken at the Azores Whale Lab. Specifically, we wish to understand how multiple ecological (prey abundance, habitat characteristics, intra-specific competition), social (group size, presence of calves) and physiological (sex, age, reproductive and nutritional status) factors interact to produce patterns of movements of cetaceans at various spatial and temporal scales. This knowledge is critical to understand how cetaceans respond to natural and human-related changes in the marine environment.

Featured projects (1)

Goal: SUMMER will establish a protocol to accurately estimate mesopelagic fish biomass, quantify the ecosystem services provided by the mesopelagic community (food, climate regulation and potential for bioactive compounds) and develop a decision support tool to measure the trade-offs between the different services.

Featured research (179)

Efficient use of the energy budget is of fundamental importance for long-distance migrants, which must cope with seasonal energy demands and environmental conditions. Time-activity budgets can provide information on how animals balance energy use and acquisition over their annual cycle, and on the costs and benefits of different migratory strategies. Baleen whales, such as the fin whale, perform long migrations between feeding and breeding grounds. Although there are now a handful of studies describing the diving and foraging behavior of fin whales, most were carried out at their high-latitude foraging grounds, and very little is known about their behavior in wintering habitats or during migration. We analyzed time-depth recorder data to describe the diving behavior and activity patterns of fin whales in a migratory habitat. Using a hierarchical cluster analysis based on a set of dive variables, we identified six dive types. Four of these dive types (shallow exploratory, shallow active, deep exploratory and deep active) were likely associated to foraging. The other two comprised long non-active dives and dives of variable shape, which may represent resting, traveling or even vocalizing behavior. Shallow exploratory dives were the most frequent dive type (23%) and shallow active were the least frequent (5%). The two deepest dive types, deep active and exploratory, were predominantly carried out during the day, and night dives were significantly shallower than daylight dives, suggesting that fin whales tracked the vertical migration of prey. Whales spent 60% of their dive time engaged in dives associated with feeding and/or prey searching, suggesting they prioritized energy intake over energy conservation. Finally, we found that whales spent more time at or close (<15 m depth) to the surface at night (73%) than during the day (55%), indicating a higher vulnerability to ship strikes during this period. Our study provides novel information on the behavioral patterns and time-activity budgets of fin whales in a migratory habitat. This information is essential for bioenergetic analyses and to predict how fin whales respond to human activities and ongoing environmental changes.
Global warming is affecting the population dynamics and trophic interactions across a wide range of ecosystems and habitats. Translating these real-time effects into their long-term consequences remains a challenge. The rapid and extreme warming period that occurred after the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) during the Pleistocene–Holocene transition (7–12 thousand years ago) provides an opportunity to gain insights into the long-term responses of natural populations to periods with global warming. The effects of this post-LGM warming period have been assessed in many terrestrial taxa, whereas insights into the impacts of rapid global warming on marine taxa remain limited, especially for megafauna. In order to understand how large-scale climate fluctuations during the post-LGM affected baleen whales and their prey, we conducted an extensive, large-scale analysis of the long-term effects of the post-LGM warming on abundance and inter-ocean connectivity in eight baleen whale and seven prey (fish and invertebrates) species across the Southern and the North Atlantic Ocean; two ocean basins that differ in key oceanographic features. The analysis was based upon 7032 mitochondrial DNA sequences as well as genome-wide DNA sequence variation in 100 individuals. The estimated temporal changes in genetic diversity during the last 30,000 years indicated that most baleen whale populations underwent post-LGM expansions in both ocean basins. The increase in baleen whale abundance during the Holocene was associated with simultaneous changes in their prey and climate. Highly correlated, synchronized and exponential increases in abundance in both baleen whales and their prey in the Southern Ocean were indicative of a dramatic increase in ocean productivity. In contrast, the demographic fluctuations observed in baleen whales and their prey in the North Atlantic Ocean were subtle, varying across taxa and time. Perhaps most important was the observation that the ocean-wide expansions and decreases in abundance that were initiated by the post-LGM global warming, continued for millennia after global temperatures stabilized, reflecting persistent, long-lasting impacts of global warming on marine fauna.
Abstract available in English, Spanish and Portuguese. The deep sea has been described as the last major ecological frontier, as much of its biodiversity is yet to be discovered and described. Beaked whales (ziphiids) are among the most visible inhabitants of the deep sea, due to their large size and worldwide distribution, and their taxonomic diversity and much about their natural history remain poorly understood. We combine genomic and morphometric analyses to reveal a new Southern Hemisphere ziphiid species, Ramari’s beaked whale, Mesoplodon eueu, whose name is linked to the Indigenous peoples of the lands from which the species holotype and paratypes were recovered. Mitogenome and ddRAD- derived phylogenies demonstrate reciprocally monophy- letic divergence between M. eueu and True’s beaked whale (M. mirus) from the North Atlantic, with which it was previously subsumed. Morphometric analyses of skulls also distinguish the two species. A time-calibrated mitogenome phylogeny and analysis of two nuclear gen- omes indicate divergence began circa 2 million years ago (Ma), with geneflow ceasing 0.35–0.55Ma. This is an example of how deep sea biodiversity can be unravelled through increasing international collaboration and genome sequencing of archival specimens. Our consul- tation and involvement with Indigenous peoples offers a model for broadening the cultural scope of the scientific naming process.

Lab head

Mónica A Silva
  • IMAR - Institute of Marine Research

Members (11)

Rui Prieto
  • University of the Azores
Irma Cascão
  • Institute of Marine Sciences - Okeanos, University of the Azores
Sergi Pérez-Jorge
  • Institute of Marine Research, Azores, Portugal
Cláudia Oliveira
  • Okeanos R&D Centre and IMAR, Institute of Marine Research
Miriam Romagosa
  • University of the Azores
Marta Tobeña
  • University of the Azores
Mariana Silva
  • University of the Azores
Sarah Kather
  • University of the Azores

Alumni (7)

Sara Magalhães
  • Independent Researcher
Rebecca M Boys
  • Massey University
Maria João Cruz
  • University of the Azores
Cláudia Faustino
  • UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre