Présence et mort d'une baleine bleue sur les côtes néo-calédoniennes: quels enseignements scientifiques en tirer ?

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L'auteur a suivi le séjour de 3 semaines d'un juvenile mâle de baleine bleue Balenoptera musculus brevicauda qui s'est réfugié en janvier 2002 dans une baie du Sud de la Nouvelle-Calédonie où son état général s'est progressivement dégradé jusqu'à ce qu'il soit attaqué et tué par des requins bouledogues Carcharhinus leucas. Le cadavre de l'animal a été ensuite dévoré par une agrégation (> 40) de requins tigres Galeocerdo cuvier.

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... Prony Bay despite the potential risk of confinement. Several rivers bring freshwater into the bay, where bullsharks (Carcharhinus leucas) are present all year long, sharing the area with Tiger Sharks (Clua 2002). ...
... The first sighting of 'an elongated marine mammal' occurred on 26 December 2001 near the Woodin channel ( Figure 1). Aerial and underwater observations conducted on 9 January 2002 determined that it was a blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) (Clua 2002). From this date, the blue whale moved to and remained within Prony bay. ...
... From this date, the blue whale moved to and remained within Prony bay. The means of the interval between 'spout' blows of the whale decreased regularly (from an average of three minutes to less than one minute), reflecting declining health (Clua 2002). On 25 January, two bullsharks $2.8 m TL were identified following the blue whale at a distance of 15-20 m. ...
Tiger Sharks, Galeocerdo cuvier, are large top-level predators usually solitary as adults. Observation of their scavenging activity on the carcass of a dead whale offered a rare opportunity for better understanding the pattern of intra-specific behaviour within the aggregations of these large predators. In January 2002, the stranding, subsequent death and consumption of a 17.4m total length (TL) blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus, was observed and filmed in Prony Bay, southern New Caledonia. After three weeks of confinement in the bay, the cetacean was killed by adult bullsharks Carcharhinus leucas. The first adult Tiger Shark was subsequently observed around the carcass after 36h. The fat slicks from the carcass attracted further Tiger Sharks which arrived after an additional 24h. The use of photo-identification on video footage collected during four observation sessions over an eight-day period identified 46 individual Tiger Sharks (primarily adult females between 3.3 and 4m TL) participating in the feeding aggregation. Only four animals were identified in two seperate observation sessions (over two consecutive days), suggesting a short-term residency pattern of several hours (<36h) around the carcass. As the arrival time of Tiger Sharks to the carcass differed, most arrivals of a new participant were followed by a frenzied period of intense intra-specific interaction. Different biting and agonistic behaviours were demonstrated by the Tiger Sharks on the carcass, including three new behaviours previously undescribed for this species. Size and level of aggressiveness appeared to be the determining factors of dominance amongst Tiger Sharks. These observations and analysis demonstrate that systematic study of feeding aggregations supported by photo-identification could contribute to knowledge of large shark ecology when coupled with capture-recapture, genetic fingerprinting and tagging techniques.
... From the numerous pictures of this whale that were taken between 9 January and 29 January, we selected those with key morphological features that reportedly allow cetologists to distinguish B. m. brevicauda, the pygmy blue whale, from B. m. intermedia, the other form present in the Southern Hemisphere (Ichihara 1966, Omura et al. 1970, Kato et al. 2000. Some of the photographs examined by us have been published (Anonymous 2002, Clua 2002, David et al. 2002, including some subsequently communicated to the IWC Scientific Committee (Garrigue et al. 2003). Additional pictures were provided by P. Larue (pers. ...
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The occurrence of a blue whale is reported for the first time for the New Caledonian archipelago. The whale, a juvenile male in poor condition, entered the shallow inshore waters of the coral reef lagoon (22°19-24' S, 166° 46-52' E) where it spent at least 1 month until it was killed by whaler sharks on 27 January 2002. Live observations, examination of photographic documents, and skull osteology indicated that this was a pygmy blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda. Nucleotide sequences of PCR-amplified fragments of its mitochondrial DNA were determined and compared with the few published homologous sequences of North Atlantic blue whales, B. m. musculus, but no obvious differences were apparent
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