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  1. Ummenhofer, Caroline (Ed.)
    Changes in gray whale ( Eschrichtius robustus ) phenology and distribution are related to observed and hypothesized prey availability, bottom water temperature, salinity, sea ice persistence, integrated water column and sediment chlorophyll a , and patterns of wind-driven biophysical forcing in the northern Bering and eastern Chukchi seas. This portion of the Pacific Arctic includes four Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) sampling regions. In the Bering Strait area, passive acoustic data showed marked declines in gray whale calling activity coincident with unprecedented wintertime sea ice loss there in 2017–2019, although some whales were seen there during DBO cruises in those years. In the northern Bering Sea, sightings during DBO cruises show changes in gray whale distribution coincident with a shrinking field of infaunal amphipods, with a significant decrease in prey abundance (r = -0.314, p<0.05) observed in the DBO 2 region over the 2010–2019 period. In the eastern Chukchi Sea, sightings during broad scale aerial surveys show that gray whale distribution is associated with localized areas of high infaunal crustacean abundance. Although infaunal crustacean prey abundance was unchanged in DBO regions 3, 4 and 5, a mid-decade shift in gray whale distribution corresponded to both: (i) a localized increase in infaunalmore »prey abundance in DBO regions 4 and 5, and (ii) a correlation of whale relative abundance with wind patterns that can influence epi-benthic and pelagic prey availability. Specifically, in the northeastern Chukchi Sea, increased sighting rates (whales/km) associated with an ~110 km (60 nm) offshore shift in distribution was positively correlated with large scale and local wind patterns conducive to increased availability of krill. In the southern Chukchi Sea, gray whale distribution clustered in all years near an amphipod-krill ‘hotspot’ associated with a 50-60m deep trough. We discuss potential impacts of observed and inferred prey shifts on gray whale nutrition in the context of an ongoing unusual gray whale mortality event. To conclude, we use the conceptual Arctic Marine Pulses (AMP) model to frame hypotheses that may guide future research on whales in the Pacific Arctic marine ecosystem.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 7, 2023
  2. 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 themore »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.« less