Date of this Version
Despite the extensive use of photographic identification methods to investigate humpback whales in the North Pacific, few quantitative analyses have been conducted. We report on a comprehensive analysis of interchange in the North Pacific among three wintering regions (Mexico, Hawaii, and Japan) each with two to three subareas, and feeding areas that extended from southern California to the Aleutian Islands. Of the 6,413 identification photographs of humpback whales obtained by 16 independent research groups between 1990 and 1993 and examined for this study, 3,650 photographs were determined to be of suitable quality. A total of 1,241 matches was found by two independent matching teams, identifying 2,712 unique whales in the sample (seen one to five times). Site fidelity was greatest at feeding areas where there was a high rate of resightings in the same area in different years and a low rate of interchange among different areas. Migrations between winter regions and feeding areas did not follow a simple pattern, although highest match rates were found for whales that moved between Hawaii and southeastern Alaska, and between mainland and Baja Mexico and California. Interchange among subareas of the three primary wintering regions was extensive for Hawaii, variable (depending on subareas) for Mexico, and low for Japan and reflected the relative distances among subareas. Interchange among these primary wintering regions was rare. This study provides the first quantitative assessment of the migratory structure of humpback whales in the entire North Pacific basin.