Sei Whale

projects

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Falklands Conservation has carried out sei whale field research since 2017, aiming to document their distribution, ecology and population structure in order to implement evidence-based conservation and management. The species was heavily exploited during the whaling era, resulting in its current Endangered global status. While whaling has ceased in most regions, current threats may include vessel collisions, entanglement in fishing gear, prey reduction, contaminants, harmful algal blooms, and disturbance from shipping noise. Work will continue to understand the Falklands sei whale population, and to determine methods for its conservation such as the identification of suitable protected areas.

Five distinct, but integrated, sei whale research projects were conducted this year, firstly by seeing the completion of the development of a site-based conservation approach for sei whales at Berkley Sound, Falkland Islands. This first pilot project was funded by an EU BEST 2.0 grant and used air, land, and sea surveys to assess sei whale abundance and distribution in this candidate Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), to create an identification database of Falkland’s sei whales, and to inform on government-level decisions and marine management plans.

Following on from this, and with funding support from the RSPB, studies were expanded to include candidate KBAs in West Falkland.

Six weeks of summer fieldwork was carried out and many aspects of sei whale behaviour, abundance, and genetics were investigated as part of a number of ongoing projects.

Spatial data informed the assessment of the cKBAs, our whale photo-identification catalogue was expanded, and drones were trialled as a research method.

Information on sex ratios, genetic distribution, and feeding ecology should all be possible through a genetic sampling project which collected samples from live whales, under FIG licence, and from stranded animals and historic bones.

This special analysis will be conducted by BAS in the United Kingdom.

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With funding from FIG’s Environmental Studies Budget (ESB), sei whale behavioural work was carried out alongside the West Falklands survey, to increase understanding of their natural surfacing behaviour in order to produce guidelines to better assess vessel strike modelling, and to assess potential disturbance of human activities.

Combining studies (Berkeley Sound and West Falkland) of Falkland sei whale cue rates and surfacing behaviour has provided systematic information useful in informing abundance estimates and better understanding differences in behaviour between habitats around the Islands.

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Finally, with funding from Darwin Plus, a new project was initiated in April furthering our work on candidate KBAs for whales. This project, ‘Conserving Falklands’ whale populations: addressing data deficiencies for informed management’, partners with several global experts to advance understanding of the little understood sei whale and other baleen species within Falkland Sound and Berkeley Sound candidate KBAs. In addition to expanding our knowledge on the use of these sites, including over multiple seasons, the work uses developing technology to pilot underwater acoustic monitoring and suction cup tagging to explore long-term monitoring approaches and expand our insight into behaviour under the waves. The project’s overall aims are to improve the information available to decision-makers, and engage stakeholders regarding conservation and management considerations for these and other KBAs.

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