Ecosystem consideration in conservation planning: energy demand of foraging bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus) in a marine protected area

Sascha K. Hooker, Hal Whitehead, and Shannon Gowans. In press.

Biological Conservation.

The Gully, a submarine canyon off eastern Canada, was nominated as a pilot Marine Protected Area (MPA) in 1998, largely to safeguard the vulnerable population of northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus) found there. The boundaries and ultimate management regime for the MPA for this area remain under review. We have estimated the energy consumption of bottlenose whales in the Gully based on the number of whales present at any time, their trophic level, the food requirements of each whale, and the rates of energy transfer between trophic levels. These calculations suggest that there must be a substantial spatial subsidy in the underlying foodweb of the submarine canyon to support the bottlenose whales using the Gully. A substantial area beyond the distribution of bottlenose whales in the area will therefore require protection. Conservation priorities to protect such subsidies will primarily involve additional protection at the level of the sea floor. Spatial subsidies are probably common in the marine environment, urging careful ecological analysis in the establishment of marine reserves and suggesting that conservation priorities need to take into account key ecological linkages and processes that are vital for sustaining species and habitats of concern.

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