First record of a humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae (Borowski, 1781), stranding in Pará State, Northern coast of Brazil


First record of a humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae (Borowski, 1781), stranding in Pará State, Northern coast of Brazil

Pretto, DJ.I,* * e-mail: ; Andrade, MCM.I; Oliveira, JM.II; Oliveira, MGA.III

ICentro Mamíferos Aquáticos, Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade, Campus da Universidade Federal Rural da Amazônia - UFRA, Av. Tancredo Neves, 2501, Montese, CEP 66077-530, Belém, PA, Brazil

IIParque Zoobotânico Bosque Rodrigues Alves, Av. Almirante Barroso, 2453, Marco, CEP 66093-020, Belém, PA, Brazil

IIIDivisão Especializada em Meio Ambiente, Polícia Civil do Estado do Pará, Rod. Augusto Montenegro, 155, Marambaia, CEP 66623-590, Belém, PA, Brazil

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are found worldwide in all major oceans. They occur primarily in coastal and continental shelf waters and are highly migratory. It feeds during summer in mid-and high latitudes and mates and calves during winter in tropical or subtropical waters, often concentrated around islands or reef systems (Clapham and Mead, 1999).

Current information on the distribution of humpback whales in Brazil shows that the species is abundant at Abrolhos Bank 16º 40 and 19º 30 S (Martins et al., 2001; Morete et al., 2003), northeastern Brazil. Occasional sightings and strandings have been reported from Rio Grande do Sul 34º S to Maranhão State 2º S (e.g. Pinedo, 1985; Lodi, 1994; Siciliano, 1997; Furtado-Neto et al., 1998; Pizzorno et al., 1998; Severo et al., 2004; Magalhães et al., 2008). The present paper reports the northern most record of a humpback whale (M. novaeangliae) stranding in Brazilian coast.

On October 2008, a whale carcass was found by fishermen on Peruquara beach (00º 42' 26,0'' S and 46º 57' 53,4'' W), Quatipuru, Pará State, northern coast of Brazil. The stranding area consist of a coast of indentation, formed by lowlands with numerous indentations (for) corresponding to the outfall of the rivers and the various islands there (SUDEPE, 1975), forming a series of small estuaries (MMA, 1996). The continental shelf is wide, with islands and sand banks that are periodically flooded by the sea because the tidal amplitude which together with the Golfão Maranhense is the largest of Brazil (8 m) (SUDEPE, 1975). The northern region is highly influenced by the North Brazil Current which carries the waters of the outer continental shelf and slope to the northwest (MMA, 2006).

The whale carcass measured 10 m long and was in advanced state of decomposition (Code 4 according to Geraci and Lounsbury, 2005), with no head or flippers. The species identification was held by the number of throat grooves, body size and mainly by analyses of the scapula. According to Clapham and Mead (1999), the scapula of the humpback whale is extremely diagnostic, lacking the acromion and having a very vestigial coracoid process. In all other cetaceans, both of the processes are strikingly large and well developed, especially the acromion. Also, Leatherwood and Reeves (1983) emphasize the robust body of the humpback whale in comparison with the other baleanopterids and gives 14-35 throat grooves for this specie, extending to the nave. The specimen stranded in Pará had 27 throat grooves and the scapula shows all the characteristics mentioned above, measuring 130 cm in length and 84 in width (Figure 1).

The whale's cause of death was not identified, although tissue samples were collected for further analysis. Nevertheless, seismic prospecting surveys were held in Pará-Maranhão Basin on the stranding period (unpublished information), a fact that must be observed with attention since harmful effects of this activity on marine mammals are not yet clear (Parente, 2008).

The present report of this species in this region, in addition with strandings that occurred along Ceará (Furtado-Neto et al., 1998), Piauí (Severo et al., 2004) and Maranhão State coast (Magalhães et al., 2008), may indicate a possible increase of the humpback whale population along the Southwestern Atlantic, probably extending their distribution area towards the northern coast of Brazil, like others authors supposed (Lodi, 1994; Andriolo et al., 2006; Magalhães et al., 2008; Rossi-Santos et al., 2008). Although it is not yet clear whether these areas correspond to the typical range of the species, there are signs that with population growth it is reoccupying areas further north, where it should be their historical occurrence (Milton Marcondes, personal communication). Dutch whalers present historical records of sightings and catches of humpback whales off the northern Brazilian coast in the first decades of the twentieth century (Slijper and Van Utretch, 1959 apud Siciliano et al., 2008).

Genetic analyses will be conduct to identify the stock of this specimen and verify if is from a Southern or Northern population, although the date of the stranding (October) suggests the former alternative (stock A). Nevertheless, this is the northern most record of the species in the Brazilian coast.

Acknowledgements - The authors wish to express their thanks to Milton Marcondes and Leonardo Wedekin for critical reading and suggestions to improve the manuscript. We are also greatful to two anonymous referees that improved this manuscript.

Received May 7, 2009

Accepted July 2, 2009

Distributed November 30, 2009 (With 1 figure)

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Publication Dates

  • Publication in this collection
    26 Nov 2009
  • Date of issue
    Nov 2009
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