ESR 17:1-16 (2012)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00403

Definition of critical summer and fall habitat for bowhead whales in the eastern Canadian Arctic

Benjamin Wheeler1,*, Marianne Gilbert2, Stephen Rowe

1Hemmera, 1380 Burrard St., Suite 250, Vancouver, British Columbia V6Z 2H3, Canada
2Stantec, 4370 Dominion St., 5th floor, Burnaby, British Columbia V5G 4L7, Canada
3Integrated Informatics Inc., 268 Duckworth Street, St. John’s, Newfoundland A1C 5W1, Canada

ABSTRACT: Bowhead whale Balaena mysticetus critical habitat was identified as a key information gap by the Eastern Arctic Bowhead Whale Recovery Team. To fill this gap, data on eastern Canadian Arctic (ECA) bowhead whales and their habitat were collected and analyzed. We selected governmental, private, and historical whaling bowhead location datasets which differed in temporal and spatial extent, sample size, and quality. Sufficient data were available only for the ‘reduced-ice’ period (June to October) and pooled by month. Data for 6 ecogeographical variables (EGVs) were integrated into a geographical information system (GIS): sea surface temperature, chlorophyll, ice, depth, slope, and distance to shore. A monthly ecological niche factor analysis was performed for each whale and EGV dataset to determine habitat suitability in the ECA. Eleven habitat suitability models were produced, and a composite map of predicted high suitability habitat, for all 5 months, was developed. Twenty-one areas within the ECA were identified as highly suitable habitat and ranked according to analytical confidence. Six critical habitats were identified and are supported by recent scientific evidence and Inuit knowledge. Recently, the population estimate, conservation status, and management of the Eastern Canada−West Greenland bowhead population have changed dramatically (bowhead whales of this population also inhabit the ECA). In parallel, evidence of ecological change from climate warming has increased and associated loss of sea ice is anticipated to increase interactions between bowheads and anthropogenic activity. As envisioned by the recovery team, this study provides resource managers with a timely tool for population recovery, conservation, and protection.


KEY WORDS: Eastern Canadian Arctic · Bowhead whale · Critical habitat · Ecological niche modeling · Ecological niche factor analysis · Habitat suitability · Species recovery · Management · Climate change


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Cite this article as: Wheeler B, Gilbert M, Rowe S (2012) Definition of critical summer and fall habitat for bowhead whales in the eastern Canadian Arctic. Endang Species Res 17:1-16. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00403

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