skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Friday, April 12 until 2:00 AM ET on Saturday, April 13 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Title: Seasonal variation in Arctic marine mammal acoustic detection in the northern Bering Sea

Declines in Arctic sea ice cover are influencing the distribution of protected endemic marine mammals, many of which are important for local Indigenous Peoples, and increasing the presence of potentially disruptive industrial activities. Due to increasing conservation concerns, we conducted the first year‐round acoustic monitoring of waters off Gambell and Savoonga (St. Lawrence Island, Alaska), and in the Bering Strait to quantify vocalizing presence of bowhead whales, belugas, walruses, bearded seals, and ribbon seals. Bottom‐mounted archival acoustic recorders collected data for up to 10 months per deployment between 2012 and 2016. Spectrograms were analyzed for species‐typical vocalizations, and daily detection rates and presence/absence were calculated. Generalized additive models were used to model call presence as a function of time‐of‐year, sea surface temperature, and sea ice concentration. We identified seasonality in call presence for all species, corroborating previous acoustic and distribution studies, and identified finer‐scale spatiotemporal distribution via occurrence of call presence between different monitoring sites. Time‐of‐year was the strongest significant effect on call presence for all species. These data provide important information on Arctic endemic species' spatiotemporal distributions in biologically and culturally important areas within a rapidly changing Arctic region.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Marine Mammal Science
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 522-547
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Halliday, William David (Ed.)
    The Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) was established to detect environmental changes in the Pacific Arctic by regular monitoring of biophysical responses in each of 8 DBO regions. Here we examine the occurrence of bowhead and beluga whale vocalizations in the western Beaufort Sea acquired by acoustic instruments deployed from September 2008-July 2014 and September 2016-October 2018 to examine inter-annual variability of these Arctic endemic species in DBO Region 6. Acoustic data were collected on an oceanographic mooring deployed in the Beaufort shelfbreak jet at ~71.4°N, 152.0°W. Spectrograms of acoustic data files were visually examined for the presence or absence of known signals of bowhead and beluga whales. Weekly averages of whale occurrence were compared with outputs of zooplankton, temperature and sea ice from the BIOMAS model to determine if any of these variables influenced whale occurrence. In addition, the dates of acoustic whale passage in the spring and fall were compared to annual sea ice melt-out and freeze-up dates to examine changes in phenology. Neither bowhead nor beluga whale migration times changed significantly in spring, but bowhead whales migrated significantly later in fall from 2008–2018. There were no clear relationships between bowhead whales and the environmental variables, suggesting that the DBO 6 region is a migratory corridor, but not a feeding hotspot, for this species. Surprisingly, beluga whale acoustic presence was related to zooplankton biomass near the mooring, but this is unlikely to be a direct relationship: there are likely interactions of environmental drivers that result in higher occurrence of both modeled zooplankton and belugas in the DBO 6 region. The environmental triggers that drive the migratory phenology of the two Arctic endemic cetacean species likely extend from Bering Sea transport of heat, nutrients and plankton through the Chukchi and into the Beaufort Sea. 
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Sea ice loss is fundamentally altering the Arctic marine environment. Yet there is a paucity of data on the adaptability of food webs to ecosystem change, including predator–prey interactions. Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are an important subsistence resource for Indigenous people and an apex predator that relies entirely on the under‐ice food web to meet its energy needs. In this study, we assessed whether polar bears maintained dietary energy density by prey switching in response to spatiotemporal variation in prey availability. We compared the macronutrient composition of diets inferred from stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in polar bear guard hair (primarily representing summer/fall diet) during periods when bears had low and high survival (2004–2016), between bears that summered on land versus pack ice, and between bears occupying different regions of the Alaskan and Canadian Beaufort Sea. Polar bears consumed diets with lower energy density during periods of low survival, suggesting that concurrent increased dietary proportions of beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) did not offset reduced proportions of ringed seals (Pusa hispida). Diets with the lowest energy density and proportions from ringed seal blubber were consumed by bears in the western Beaufort Sea (Alaska) during a period when polar bear abundance declined. Intake required to meet energy requirements of an average free‐ranging adult female polar bear was 2.1 kg/day on diets consumed during years with high survival but rose to 3.0 kg/day when survival was low. Although bears that summered onshore in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea had higher‐fat diets than bears that summered on the pack ice, access to the remains of subsistence‐harvested bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) contributed little to improving diet energy density. Because most bears in this region remain with the sea ice year round, prey switching and consumption of whale carcasses onshore appear insufficient to augment diets when availability of their primary prey, ringed seals, is reduced. Our results show that a strong predator–prey relationship between polar bears and ringed seals continues in the Beaufort Sea. The method of estimating dietary blubber using predator hair, demonstrated here, provides a new metric to monitor predator–prey relationships that affect individual health and population demographics.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Satellites Over Seals (SOS), a project initiated in late 2016, is a crowdsourced method to determine factors behind the presence/absence patterns and to ultimately determine the global population of the Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii). An iconic species, the Weddell seal is proposed to be part of the Antarctic Research and Monitoring Program required in the newly designated Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area. This species is easy to detect via satellite imagery, due to its large size (3–4 m long, 1 m wide) and its dark color contrasting with the Antarctic coastal fast ice, where it aggregates on during breeding season. Using very high‐resolution satellite imagery (VHR; 0.31–0.60 m resolution) and the online platform Tomnod, we used VHR images from November 2010 and 2011 to cover the entirety of available fast ice around Antarctica. Before correcting for time of day or date, we searched for the presence/absence to identify a subset of where abundance estimates should be concentrated. More than 325 000 citizen scientists searched 790 VHR images, covering 268 611 km2of fast ice, to determine the locations of seals. Algorithms ranked searchers to the degree their votes corresponded with others, a measure of searcher relative quality that we used to filter out unreliable searchers. Seal presence was detected on only 0.55% of available maps (totaln = 1 116 058) within fast ice, revealing a sparse, irregular distribution. The rate of false‐negative detections was 1.7%, though false positives were high (67%), highlighting the importance of training for image interpretation to ensure differentiation between seals and landscape features (such as large rocks, ice chunks or depressions/holes in the ice). This approach not only allowed us to assess image resolution and quality, but also training, outreach and the effectiveness of this platform for introducing citizen scientists to the ecology of the Southern Ocean.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Recent reductions in thickness and extent have increased drift rates of Arctic sea ice. Increased ice drift could significantly affect the movements and the energy balance of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) which forage, nearly exclusively, on this substrate. We used radio‐tracking and ice drift data to quantify the influence of increased drift on bear movements, and we modeled the consequences for energy demands of adult females in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas during two periods with different sea ice characteristics. Westward and northward drift of the sea ice used by polar bears in both regions increased between 1987–1998 and 1999–2013. To remain within their home ranges, polar bears responded to the higher westward ice drift with greater eastward movements, while their movements north in the spring and south in fall were frequently aided by ice motion. To compensate for more rapid westward ice drift in recent years, polar bears covered greater daily distances either by increasing their time spent active (7.6%–9.6%) or by increasing their travel speed (8.5%–8.9%). This increased their calculated annual energy expenditure by 1.8%–3.6% (depending on region and reproductive status), a cost that could be met by capturing an additional 1–3 seals/year. Polar bears selected similar habitats in both periods, indicating that faster drift did not alter habitat preferences. Compounding reduced foraging opportunities that result from habitat loss; changes in ice drift, and associated activity increases, likely exacerbate the physiological stress experienced by polar bears in a warming Arctic.

    more » « less
  5. There is limited information about the biology and seasonal distribution of bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus) in Greenland. The species is highly ice-associated and depends on sea ice for hauling out and giving birth, making it vulnerable to climate change. We investigated the seasonality and distribution of bearded seal vocalizations at seven different locations across southern Baffin Bay and Davis Strait, West Greenland. Aural M2 and HARUphone recorders were deployed on the sea bottom during 2006–2007 and 2011–2013. Recordings were analyzed for presence/absence of bearded seal calls relative to location (including distance to shore and depth), mean sea ice concentration and diel patterns. Calling occurred between November and late June with most intense calling during the mating season at all sites. There was a clear effect of depth and distance to shore on the number of detections, and the Greenland shelf (< 300 m) appeared to be the preferred habitat for bearded seals during the mating season. These results suggest that bearded seals may retreat with the receding sea ice to Canada during summer or possibly spend the summer along the West Greenland coast. It is also possible that, due to seasonal changes in bearded seal vocal behavior, animals may have been present in our study area in summer, but silent. The number of detections was affected by the timing of sea ice formation but not sea ice concentration. Diel patterns were consistent with patterns found in other parts of the Arctic, with a peak during early morning (0400 local) and a minimum during late afternoon (1600 local). While vocalization studies have been conducted on bearded seals in Norwegian, Canadian, northwest Greenland, and Alaskan territories, this study fills the gap between these areas. 
    more » « less