Song variation of the South Eastern Indian Ocean pygmy blue whale population in the Perth Canyon, Western Australia
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Sea noise collected over 2003 to 2017 from the Perth Canyon, Western Australia was analysed for variation in the South Eastern Indian Ocean pygmy blue whale song structure. The primary song-types were: P3, a three unit phrase (I, II and III) repeated with an inter-song interval (ISI) of 170–194 s; P2, a phrase consisting of only units II & III repeated every 84–96 s; and P1 with a phrase consisting of only unit II repeated every 45–49 s. The different ISI values were approximate multiples of each other within a season. When comparing data from each season, across seasons, the ISI value for each song increased significantly through time (all fits had p < 0.001), at 0.30 s/Year (95%CI 0.217–0.383), 0.8 s/Year (95% CI 0.655–1.025) and 1.73 s/Year (95%CI 1.264–2.196) for the P1, P2 and P3 songs respectively. The proportions of each song-type averaged at 21.5, 24.2 and 56% for P1, P2 and P3 occurrence respectively and these ratios could vary by up to ± 8% (95% CI) amongst years. On some occasions animals changed the P3 ISI to be significantly shorter (120–160 s) or longer (220–280 s). Hybrid song patterns occurred where animals combined multiple phrase types into a repeated song. In recent years whales introduced further complexity by splitting song units. This variability of song-type and proportions implies abundance measure for this whale sub population based on song detection needs to factor in trends in song variability to make data comparable between seasons. Further, such variability in song production by a sub population of pygmy blue whales raises questions as to the stability of the song types that are used to delineate populations. The high level of song variability may be driven by an increasing number of background whale callers creating ‘noise’ and so forcing animals to alter song in order to ‘stand out’ amongst the crowd.
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