Whales and seals Arctic

Exposure of satellite tagged bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) to transiting vessels in the Eastern Canadian Arctic

Martin, M., Halliday, W., Ferguson, S., et al.


Abstract

Climate change poses new challenges to Arctic marine mammals, with increasing vessel traffic and associated underwater noise pollution emerging as significant threats. The bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus), an endemic Arctic cetacean, faces these new threats.

The Eastern Canada-West Greenland (ECWG) bowhead whale population migrates through areas with the highest levels of vessel traffic in the Canadian Arctic. Here, we document the spatial and temporal overlap between 36 satellite-tagged ECWG bowhead whales and vessels equipped with Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders during 2012–2017.

We report 1,145 instances where vessels were within 125 km of a tagged whale, with 306 occurrences within distances ≤50 km. Overlap between vessels and tagged bowhead whales was quantified monthly within years to investigate individual whale encounter rates. Results indicate that ECWG bowhead whales encounter the majority (79%) of vessels annually during August–October, with the highest number of encounters (42%) observed in September. Encounter rates ranged from 0.25 to 0.51 vessels encountered per day per whale during August–October compared to <0.07 vessels per day in all other months in this study.

To better inform conservation strategies, further research is required to assess bowhead whale behavioral responses relative to distance from vessels.

Recommended citation

Martin, M., Halliday, W., Ferguson, S., et al. (2024). Exposure of satellite tagged bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) to transiting vessels in the Eastern Canadian Arctic. Marine Mammal Science. https://doi.org/10.1111/mms.13125

William Halliday

William Halliday

Conservation Scientist/Arctic Acoustics Program Lead

Stephen Insley

Stephen Insley

 Director of Arctic Conservation

WCS in Nicaragua: Canadian scientist leads endangered turtle conservation project

WCS in Nicaragua: Canadian scientist leads endangered turtle conservation project

My work is dedicated to protecting one of the Caribbean’s most important nesting populations of hawksbills - the world’s most endangered sea turtle.

Whales and seals

Whales and seals

A warmer, noisier Arctic is creating new challenges for marine mammals