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Variability in fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) occurrence in the Bering Strait and southern Chukchi Sea in relation to environmental factors
Escajeda, E.; Stafford, K.M.; Woodgate, R.A.; Laidre, K.L. (2020). Variability in fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) occurrence in the Bering Strait and southern Chukchi Sea in relation to environmental factors. Deep-Sea Res., Part II, Top. Stud. Oceanogr. 177: 104782. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.dsr2.2020.104782
In: Deep-Sea Research, Part II. Topical Studies in Oceanography. Pergamon: Oxford. ISSN 0967-0645; e-ISSN 1879-0100, more
Peer reviewed article  

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Keywords
    Balaenoptera physalus (Linnaeus, 1758) [WoRMS]
    Marine/Coastal
Author keywords
    Arctic; Bioacoustics; Fin whales; Chukchi Sea; Bering Strait; Interannual variability; Environmental factors; Marine ecology; Marine mammals

Authors  Top 
  • Escajeda, E.
  • Stafford, K.M.
  • Woodgate, R.A.
  • Laidre, K.L.

Abstract
    Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) are common summer visitors to the Pacific Arctic, migrating through the Bering Strait and into the southern Chukchi Sea to feed on seasonally-abundant prey. The abundance and distribution of fin whales in the Chukchi Sea varies from year-to-year, possibly reflecting fluctuating environmental conditions. We hypothesized that fin whale calls were most likely to be detected in years and at sites where productive water masses were present, indicated by low temperatures and high salinities, and where strong northward water and wind velocities, resulting in increased prey advection, were prevalent. Using acoustic recordings from three moored hydrophones in the Bering Strait region from 2009–2015, we identified fin whale calls during the open-water season (July–November) and investigated potential environmental drivers of interannual variability in fin whale presence. We examined near-surface and near-bottom temperatures (T) and salinities (S), wind and water velocities through the strait, water mass presence as estimated using published T/S boundaries, and satellite-derived sea surface temperatures and sea-ice concentrations. Our results show significant interannual variability in the acoustic presence of fin whales with the greatest detections of calls in years with contrasting environmental conditions (2012 and 2015). Colder temperatures, lower salinities, slower water velocities, and weak southward winds prevailed in 2012 while warmer temperatures, higher salinities, faster water velocities, and moderate southward winds prevailed in 2015. Most detections (96%) were recorded at the mooring site nearest the confluence of the nutrient-rich Anadyr and Bering Shelf water masses, ~35 km north of Bering Strait, indicating that productive water masses may influence the occurrence of fin whales. The disparity in environmental conditions between 2012 and 2015 suggests there may be multiple combinations of environmental factors or other unexamined variables that draw fin whales into the Pacific Arctic.

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