ESR 16:135-147 (2012)  -  DOI:

Identifying essential summer habitat of the endangered beluga whale Delphinapterus leucas in Cook Inlet, Alaska

Kimberly T. Goetz1,*, Robert A. Montgomery2, Jay M. Ver Hoef1, Roderick C. Hobbs1, Devin S. Johnson1

1National Marine Mammal Laboratory, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Seattle, Washington 98115−6349, USA
2Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824, USA

ABSTRACT: In response to the critically low numbers of beluga whales Delphinapterus leucas in Cook Inlet, Alaska, USA, the US federal government listed this isolated population as endangered in 2008. Despite the curtailment of subsistence hunting in 1999, the abundance of Cook Inlet belugas has remained low (<400 whales), with no obvious signs of recovery. As habitat is a critical component of population viability, our goal was to identify habitat selected by beluga whales. We developed predictive habitat models from the distribution and group size of beluga whales observed between 1994 and 2008. We fit a 2-part hurdle model to describe the physical and anthropogenic factors that influence (1) beluga presence (mixed model logistic regression) and (2) beluga count data (mixed model Poisson regression). Beluga presence was negatively associated with sources of anthropogenic disturbance and positively associated with fish availability and access to tidal flats and sandy substrate. Beluga group size was positively associated with tidal flats and proxies for seasonally available fish. We produced habitat maps for beluga presence, group size, and the expected number of belugas in each 1 km2 cell of Cook Inlet. These maps distinguish suitable habitat which could prove integral to the sustainability and recovery of the Cook Inlet beluga whale population.

KEY WORDS: Beluga whales · Delphinapterus leucas · Cook Inlet · Poisson · Logistic regression · Habitat selection · GIS · Generalized linear mixed model · GLMM

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Cite this article as: Goetz KT, Montgomery RA, Ver Hoef JM, Hobbs RC, Johnson DS (2012) Identifying essential summer habitat of the endangered beluga whale Delphinapterus leucas in Cook Inlet, Alaska. Endang Species Res 16:135-147.

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