Small research vessels are often used as platforms for tagging activities to collect behavioral data on cetaceans and they have the potential to disturb that group or individual. If this disturbance is ignored, results and conclusions produced by that study could be inaccurate. Here land-based behavioral data of migrating humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) (n = 29) were used to determine the effect of close approaches for tagging by research vessels on their diving, movement and surface behaviors. Groups of whales were tagged, using digital recording tags, by small research vessels, as part of a behavioral response study. In groups that were approached for tagging, temporary changes in movement behaviors during close approaches were found, with subsequent recovery to “pre-approach” levels. In female-calf groups more long-term changes in travel speed were found. Results suggest that, although close approaches for tagging by small vessels may cause behavioral changes in humpback whales, this change may be small and temporary. However, in female-calf groups, the behavioral change may be greater and longer lasting. This study shows that when using small vessels for behavioral research, disturbance, and recovery should be measured to ensure integrity of data used for other analyses.
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