Whales and seals Arctic

Exposure and behavioral responses of tagged beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) to ships in the Pacific Arctic

Martin, M.J., Halliday, W.D., Storrie, L., Citta, J.J., Dawson, J., Hussey, N.E., Juanes, F., Loseto, L.L., MacPhee, S.A., Moore, L. and Nicoll, A.


Abstract

Arctic marine mammals face a multitude of challenges linked to climate change, including increasing anthropogenic noise from ship traffic. The beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas), a predominately Arctic endemic cetacean, relies heavily on acoustic communication, with documented overlap between their vocalizations and hearing range and ship noise. Some belugas migrate through areas with the highest levels of ship traffic in the Pacific Arctic and exposure to ship noise is highly probable. Here, we document the responses of nine satellite-tagged Eastern Beaufort Sea belugas to encounters with ships in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and Bering Seas during July–December 2018. We report 177 occasions when ships were within 125 km of tagged belugas and quantified changes in lateral and vertical movements to investigate individual behavioral responses to ship approaches within 50 km (n = 23). Belugas' swim speed was negatively correlated with ship distance, showing possible changes in swim speed up to 79 km away. Changes in lateral and vertical movements, indicating disruption of behavior, were observed when some ships passed within 50 km. These findings corroborate previous studies that have shown behavioral responses of belugas to ships at distances far beyond visual range, implying belugas react to low-amplitude ship noise near ambient levels.

Recommended citation

Martin, M.J., Halliday, W.D., Storrie, L., Citta, J.J., Dawson, J., Hussey, N.E., Juanes, F., Loseto, L.L., MacPhee, S.A., Moore, L. and Nicoll, A. (2022). Exposure and behavioral responses of tagged beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) to ships in the Pacific Arctic. Marine Mammal Science. https://doi.org/10.1111/mms.12978

William Halliday

William Halliday

Conservation Scientist/Arctic Acoustics Program Lead

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