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From the southern right whale hunting decline to the humpback whaling expansion: a review of whale catch records in the tropical western South Atlantic Ocean

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Igor Oliveira Braga de Morais, Daniel Danilewicz, Alexandre Novaes Zerbini, William Edmundson, Ian B. Hart, Guilherme A. Bortolotto

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1. Historical catch records from whaling activity are crucial for assessments of whale populations. However, several gaps in the exploitation history for many populations from before the twentieth century create limitations that may lead to overestimates of the recovery of these populations. The history of modern whaling along the Brazilian coast is relatively well known. However, several questions relating to the pre-modern period, during and before the nineteenth century, remain unanswered. For example, the level of exploitation of humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae and southern right whales Eubalaena australis in this period is unknown.
2. Pre-modern whaling in Brazil began in 1602 and lasted until the 1920s. Whales were captured using manual harpoons from either rowing boats or sailing boats, and processed at land stations called ‘armações’. A review of the history and oil production of these stations indicates that substantial catches occurred.3. Pre-modern whaling records also indicate the collapse of the southern right whale population in the western South Atlantic Ocean. Increasingly rare reports of sightings for the nineteenth century and the closing of the last armação in the breeding grounds off southern Brazil indicate that this population collapsed by 1830.4. Armações operating in north-eastern Brazil remained active through the 1800s, and targeted humpback whales until modern whaling techniques were introduced in the early 1900s. It is estimated that between approximately 11000 and 32000 individuals of this species were captured at these coastal whaling stations from 1830 to 1924.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-23
JournalMammal Review
Issue number1
Early online date9 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017

    Research areas

  • Brazilian coast, Eubalaena australis, Exploitation, Megaptera novaeangliae, Whalers

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