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As part of the International Whaling Commission’s SOWER blue whale research programme, two sighting vessels, the Shonan Maru and the Shonan Maru No.2, surveyed the Madagascar Plateau between 25° and 35°S, 40° and 45°E, in December 1996. A total of 95 sightings of 110 blue whales (assigned in the field as pygmy blue whales – see discussion), 14 sightings of 21 blue whales (subspecies undetermined) and 12 sightings of 13 ‘like blue’ whales was made in 23 days. In the first half of the survey, the whole research area was covered in a mainly pre-determined zigzag search pattern, and the associated sightings and effort have been used to derive density estimates for blue whales for the area. Sightings in the second half of the survey, where effort was directed at blue whale concentrations, have only been used to provide supplementary data for calculation of the effective search half-width and mean school size. The resulting population estimate is 424 (CV = 0.42), or 472 (CV = 0.48) whales when ‘like blue’ sightings are included. Dive times and surfacing behaviour recorded in just over 21h of monitoring suggest that the assumption that all groups on the trackline were seen (g(0) = 1) is reasonable. As the geographical extent of the survey area was substantially less than that of past catches of blue whales in the region in December, this estimate must refer to only a portion (possibly about one third) of the total population. Some evidence of feeding on euphausiids in the region was detected, possibly as a consequence of a localised upwelling cell at the southern tip of Madagascar.
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