SciELO - Scientific Electronic Library Online

vol.60 issue3High intraspecific variation in the diet of the french angelfish Pomacanthus paru in the south-western AtlanticThe 2004 Sumatra tsunami effect on the Itajaí-Açu estuary water level, Santa Catarina, Brazil author indexsubject indexarticles search
Home Pagealphabetic serial listing  

Services on Demand




Related links


Brazilian Journal of Oceanography

Print version ISSN 1679-8759

Braz. j. oceanogr. vol.60 no.3 São Paulo July/Sept. 2012 



Sightings of humpback whales on the Vitória-Trindade chain and around Trindade Island, Brazil



Salvatore SicilianoI; Jailson F. de MouraI; Henrique R. FilgueirasII; Paulo P. RodriguesIII; Nilamon de Oliveira Leite Jr.IV

IGrupo de Estudos de Mamíferos Marinhos da Região dos Lagos (GEMM-Lagos), Departamento de Endemias Samuel Pessoa, Escola Nacionalde Saúde Pública/FIOCRUZ. Rua Leopoldo Bulhões, 1.480 –6º. andar, sala 620, Manguinhos– 21041-210, Rio de Janeiro, RJ Brazil
IIReserva Biológica de Comboios/Projeto Tamar, Caixa Postal 105, 29900-970 – Regência, Linhares, ES Brazil
IIIInstituto Ecomaris, Rua Renato Nascimento Daher Carneiro, 780.Condomínio Village, Edifício Delacroix, apto 203. Ilha do Boi – 29052-730 Vitória, ES Brazil
IVProjeto Tamar/ICMBio, Av. Paulino Müller, 1111, Jucutuquara – 29040-715 Vitória, ES Brazil



Descriptors: Megaptera novaeangliae; Trindade Island; Brazil; sightings; Migration.

Descritores: Megaptera novaeangliae, Ilha de Trindade, Brasil, Avistagem, Migração.



The Trindade and Martim Vaz islands belong to an archipelago located 1,140 km east of Vitória, Espírito Santo State, Brazil, in the Southern Atlantic Ocean. The archipelago consists of six islands of which Trindade (20º30'S and 29º18'W), with an area of 10.1 km², is the largest and Martim Vaz, with an area of 0.3 km², the second in size. The archipelago has a total area of 10.4 km² (4.0 sq mi). Its isolation on the ocean surface makes it difficult to perceive that it is part of the Vitória-Trindade Alignment, a great E-W submarine volcanic chain. The volcano lies on the ocean floor at a depth of about 5,500 m. Other volcanic constructions belonging to this alignment between Trindade-Martim Vaz and the coast have been completely eroded by the sea, and leveled down to 100 m depth. They are the guyots, usually called banks, but the islands, probably due to prolonged volcanic activity, are still high above the ocean surface. The Trindade island platform has a limited area, the width varying between 800 and 3,000 m (ALMEIDA, 2002).

In the Southwest Atlantic Ocean the winter breeding ground of M. novaeangliae is located on the north-eastern coast of Brazil, on the Abrolhos Bank (16º55'S, 38º50'W) and in its surroundings (ZERBINI et al., 2004). The Abrolhos Bank, with its shallow (0-50 m), warm waters (23ºC) protected from the prevailing NE winds and covered with coral communities, provides an ideal breeding habitat for humpback whales (SICILIANO, 1995). Studies conducted in the Abrolhos breeding ground, north-eastern Brazil, indicate that humpbacks inhabit that region from June to January, with peaks between August and October (MARTINS et al., 2001). Antarctic feeding activity extends from November to at least April (STONE; HAMMER, 1988; SECCHI et al., 2001). Additionally, occasional sightings have been reported in the Fernando de Noronha Archipelago (~3ºS) and off southern and south-eastern Brazil (e.g. LODI, 1994; PIZZORNO et al., 1998).  Siciliano (S. Siciliano, pers. comm.) reported 16 sightings of humpback whales off Trindade Is. and in the surrounding area between 1984 and 1994. The group composition of the whales sighted by this author included: singletons, mother-calf, mother-calf and escort and trios. Further, the possibility of the Trindade and Martin Vaz archipelago being one of the destinations of humpback whales wintering off Brazil was discussed.

In this note we report on two sets of opportunistic sightings of humpback whales off the south-east coast of Brazil between 2003 and 2007. Sightings were made onboard a longline fishing boat operating along the Vitória-Trindade Chain from 27 October to 10 November 2003. A second set of sightings was collected during a trip to Trindade Is. from July to August 2007. Observations of humpback whale groups during 2007 were made from cliff-top vantage points on the mainland. Whenever possible, a description of the general behavior of the whales was recorded ad libitum.

Twelve sightings of groups of humpback whales were made during the longline fishing trip carried out in 2003 along the Vitória-Trindade chain (Fig. 1; Table 1). It is suggested that the region may be an important migratory corridor for M. novaeangliae to use the Abrolhos archipelago as a breeding ground. On the other hand, previous studies have also suggested that the humpback population that breeds in Brazilian waters has increased in recent decades and the area used to breed has expanded as well (FREITAS et al., 2004; ANDRIOLO et al., 2006; ROSSI-SANTOS et al., 2008).

During one of the 2003 voyages whale groups were twice observed moving across an immersed longline fishery operation. Whales may become entangled in this fishing gear, commonly used in the Vitória-Trindade chain, as has been observed elsewhere in the world (CASSOFF et al., 2011).

Seven sightings of humpback groups were recorded in July-August 2007 near Trindade Is. by observation from the mainland. Additionally, previous data from S (1997; n=16) and Townsend (1935; n=01) were considered in this work for the spatial and group composition analysis (Fig. 1, Table 1). A total of 24 sightings of whale groups were recorded around Trindade Is. Mother-calf pairs were sighted on five different occasions, representing 20.8% of the all the recordings made of whales' group around the Island, (excluding the 2003 sightings on the Vitória-Trindade chain). New projects are needed to study the habitat use, group composition and behavior of the whales that visit this oceanic region. The sightings around Trindade Is. were of solitary individuals or pairs. Aerial behavior such as pectoral fin waving, tail slapping, and breaching were observed during seven of the sightings.

Townsend's (1935) classic whale charts, which illustrate where American open-boat (pre-modern) whalers took sperm, humpback, right and bowhead whales worldwide, evidence few catches of humpback whales off Trindade. Reports of humpback whales relating to 1984, 1993 and 1994 were the first evidence of the presence of the species off Trindade in recent decades (Siciliano, pers. comm.). This author also discussed the probable origin of these whales and their connection with other major breeding grounds.

Pre-modern whaling data for South American waters (1831/32) indicate that humpback whales were observed in the same seasonal period and migratory route locations recognized at the present time in Brazil (BEST, 2008). According to Best (2008) the whales observed 500 to 1,000 nautical miles off the Brazilian coast (including sightings off Trindade Is.) between latitudes 17 and 28ºS in mid-winter suggest that the destination of these cetaceans may not be the Abrolhos bank (18º30'S, 39º30'W), but a region further north and east. Humpback whales are relatively abundant on the north-eastern Brazilian coast, far north of the Abrolhos bank and where important whaling activities occurred in the 20th century (ZERBINI et al., 2004; ANDRIOLO et al., 2010). According to Zerbini et al. (2004), the high density of whales off northeastern Brazil suggests that the species is undergoing a process of reoccupation of a historical area of distribution, and the presence of newborn individuals indicates that calving and nursing occur in the area. Data on telemetry presented by Zerbini et al. (2011) show a female M. novaeangliae tagged off Brazil (far north of the Abrolhos bank) migrating southward over the Vitória-Trindade submarine chain (at a point 200 km from Trindade Is.) towards the South Sandwich Archipelago. It is common for oceanic islands (such as Trindade and Martim Vaz) to serve as habitats for humpback whales during their migrations, as is seen in the Pacific Ocean (HAUSER et al., 2010).

Our results and the previous published information suggest that the region around the Trindade and Martim Vaz archipelago may represent a migratory route for humpbacks that visit Brazilian waters. Furthermore, the frequency of groups of whales in this oceanic region during migration may be increasing due to population growth and the reoccupation process on the part of the stock of whales that have been using Brazilian waters after the cessation of whaling activities. This hypothesis has been presented to explain the growing extension of the area in which the occurrence of whales has been reported north of the Abrolhos bank (ROSSI-SANTOS et al., 2008; ANDRIOLO et al., 2010). Another reasonable explanation for the occurrences of humpbacks presented in this study is the more frequent presence of researchers visiting Trindade Is., which increases the possibility of sightings. We recommend future long-term, systematic studies for the investigation of the habitat use, group composition and behavior pattern of M. novaeangliae in the oceanic waters around Trindade Island.



The authors were in part sponsored by the Fundação Pro-TAMAR, responsible for the longline boat survey and its expends.



ALMEIDA, F. F. M. Ilha de Trindade: Registro de vulcanismo cenozóico no Atlântico Sul. In: SCHOBBENHAUS, C.; CAMPOS, D. A.; QUEIROZ, E. T., WINGE, M.; BERBERT-BORN, M. (Ed.). Sítios Geológicos e Paleontológicos do Brasil. Brasília: DNPM/CPRM - Comissão Brasileira de Sítios Geológicos e Paleobiológicos (SIGEP), 2002. p. 369-377.         [ Links ]

ANDRIOLO, A.; MARTINS, C. C. A.; ENGEL, M. H.; PIZZORNO, J. L.; MÁS-ROSA, S.; FREITAS, A. C.; MORETE, M. E.; KINAS, P. G. The first aerial survey of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) to estimate abundance in the breeding ground off Brazil (Breeding Stock A). J. Cetacean Res. Manage., v. 8, p. 307-311, 2006.         [ Links ]

ANDRIOLO, A.; ROCHA, J. M.; ZERBINI, A. N.; SIMÕES-LOPES, P. C.; MORENO, I. B.; LUCENA, A.; DANILEWICZ, D.; BASSOI, M. Distribution and relative abundance of large whales in a former whaling ground off eastern South America. Zoologia, v. 27, p. 741-750, 2010.         [ Links ]

BEST, P. B. Sightings of right and humpback whales in the South Atlantic from nineteenth century whaling logbooks - a preliminary note. Paper SC/60/O12 presented to the IWC Scientific Committee, Santiago, Chile, 2008.         [ Links ]

CASSOFF, R. M.; MOORE, K. M.; MCLELLAN, W. A.; BARCO, S. G.; ROTSTEIN, D. S.; MOORE, M. J. Lethal entanglement in baleen whales. Dis. Aquat. Org., v. 96, p. 175-185, 2011.         [ Links ]

FREITAS, A. C.; KINAS, P. G.; MARTINS, C. C. A.; ENGEL, M. H. Abundance of humpback whales on the Abrolhos Bank wintering ground, Brazil. J. Cetacean Res. Manage., v. 6, p. 225-230, 2004.         [ Links ]

HAUSER, N.; ZERBINI, A. N.; GEYER, Y.; HEIDE-JØRGENSEN, M. P.; CLAPHAM, P. J. Movements of satellite-monitored humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, from the Cook Islands. Mar. Mamm. Sci., v. 26, n. 3, p. 679-685, 2010        [ Links ]

LODI, L. Ocorrências de baleias-jubarte, Megaptera novaeangliae, no Arquipélago de Fernando de Noronha,incluindo um resumo de registros de capturas no Nordestedo Brasil. Biotemas, v. 7, n. 1-2, p. 116-123, 1994.         [ Links ]

MARTINS, C. C. A.; MORETE, M. E.; ENGEL, M. H.; FREITAS, A. C.; SECCHI, E. R.; KINAS, P. G. Aspects of habitat use patterns of humpback whales in the Abrolhos Bank, Brazil, breeding ground. Mem. Queensl. Mus., v. 47, p. 563-570, 2001.         [ Links ]

PIZZORNO, J. L. A.; BRITO JR. J. L.; DORNELES, P. R.; AZEVEDO, A. F.; GURGEL, I. M. G. N. Review of strandings and additional information on humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, in Rio de Janeiro, southeastern Brazilian coast (1981–1997). Rep. Int. Whaling Comm., v. 48, p. 443-446, 1998.         [ Links ]

ROSSI-SANTOS, M. R.; NETO, E. S.; BARACHO, C. G.; CIPOLOTTI, S. R.; MARCOVALDI, E.; ENGEL, M. H. Occurrence and distribution of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) on the north coast of the State of Bahia, Brazil, 2000–2006. ICES J. Mar. Sci., v. 65, p. 667-673, 2008.         [ Links ]

SECCHI, E. R.; DALLA ROSA, L.; KINAS, P. G.; SANTOS, M. C. O.; ZERBINI, A. N.; BASSOI, M.; MORENO, I. B. Encounter rates of whales around the Antarctic Peninsula with special reference to humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, in the Gerlache Strait: 1997/98 to 1999/2000. Mem. Queensl. Mus., v. 47, p. 571-578, 2001.         [ Links ]

SICILIANO, S. Preliminary report of the occurrence and photo-identification of  humpback whales in Brazil. Rep. Int. Whaling Comm., v. 45, p. 138-140, 1995.         [ Links ]

STONE, G. S.; HAMMER, W. Humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae and southern right whales Eubalaena australis in the Gerlache Strait, Antarctica. Polar Rec., v. 24, p. 15-20, 1988.         [ Links ]

TOWNSEND, C. H. The distribution of certain whales as shown by logbook records of American whaleships. Zoologica, v. 19, p. 1-50, 1935. (4 charts).         [ Links ]

ZERBINI, A. N.; ANDRIOLO, A.; ROCHA, J. M.; SIMÕES-LOPES, P. C.; PIZZORNO, J. L.; WAITE, J. M.; DEMASTER, D. P.; VANBLARICOM, G. R. Winter distribution and abundance of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) off northeastern Brazil. J. Cetacean Res. Manage.,  v. 6, p. 101-107, 2004.         [ Links ]

ZERBINI, A. N.; ANDRIOLO, A.; DANILEWICZ, D.; HEIDE-JØRGENSEN, M. P.; GALES, N.; CLAPHAM, P. J. An update on research on migratory routes and feeding destinations of Southwest Atlantic humpback whales. Paper SC/63/SH23 presented to the IWC Scientific Committee, Tromso, Norway, 2011.         [ Links ]



(Manuscript received 10 October 2011; revised
03 June 2012; accepted 05 June 2012)



Corresponding Author:






Salvatore Siciliano, Jailson F. de Moura, Henrique R. Filgueiras, Paulo P. Rodrigues and Nilamon de Oliveira Leite Jr.

Na pág. 455, coluna direita, linha 8:

Onde se lê:

Reported 16 sightings of humpback whales off Trindade Is. and in the surrounding area between 1984 and 1994.


Siciliano (S. Siciliano, pers. comm.) reported 16 sightings...

Na pág. 456, coluna direita linhas 15 a 18:

Onde se lê:

Reports of humpback whales relating to 1984, 1993 and 1994 were the first evidence of the presence of the species off Trindade in recent decades.


Reports of humpback whales... in recent decades (Siciliano, pers. comm.).

Na pág. 457, legenda da Table 1:

Onde se lê:

The table also shows previously published sightings around Trindade Island provided* and Townsend (1939)#.


The table also shows previously published sightings around Trindade Island provided by Siciliano (S. Siciliano, unpublished data)* and Townsend (1939)#.

Creative Commons License All the contents of this journal, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License