ESR 30:53-71 (2016)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00713

Behavioural responses of western gray whales to a 4-D seismic survey off northeastern Sakhalin Island, Russia

Glenn Gailey1,*, Olga Sychenko1, Trent McDonald2, Roberto Racca3, Alexander Rutenko4, Koen Bröker5,6

1Texas A&M University, 200 Seawolf Pkwy, Galveston, TX 77553, USA
2West, Inc. Western EcoSystems Technology, 200 S. Second St., Laramie, WY 82070, USA
3JASCO Applied Sciences (Canada) Ltd., 2305–4464 Markham Street, Victoria, BC V8Z 7X8, Canada
4V.I. Il’ichev Pacific Oceanological Institute FEB RAS, ul. Baltiiskaya 43, Vladivostok 690041, Russia
5Shell Global Solutions, Lange Kleiweg 40, 2288GK Rijswijk, The Netherlands
6Marine Evolution and Conservation, Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences, University of Groningen, Nijenborgh 7, 9747AG Groningen, The Netherlands
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: A seismic survey was conducted off the northeastern coast of Sakhalin Island, Russia in 2010. The survey area was adjacent to the only known near-shore feeding ground of the Critically Endangered population of western gray whales Eschrichtius robustus in the western Pacific south of the Aleutian Islands. This study examined the effectiveness of efforts to minimize the behavioural responses of the whales to vessel proximity and sound during the survey. Two shore-based behavioural observation teams monitored whale movements and respirations pre-, during and post-seismic survey. Theodolite tracking and focal-animal follow methods were used to collect behavioural data. Mixed linear models were used to examine deviations from ‘normal’ patterns in 10 movement and 7 respiration response variables in relation to vessel proximity, vessel/whale relative orientations and 8 received sound metrics to examine if seismic survey sound and/or vessel activity influenced the whales’ behaviour. Behavioural state and water depth were the best ‘natural’ predictors of whale movements and respiration. After considering natural variation, none of the response variables were significantly associated with seismic survey or vessel sounds. A whale’s distance from shore and its orientation relative to the closest vessel were found to be significantly influenced by vessel proximity, which suggested some non-sound related disturbance. The lack of evidence that the whales responded to seismic survey sound and vessel traffic by changing either their movement or respiration patterns could indicate that the current mitigation strategy is effective. However, power analyses suggest that our sample sizes were too small to detect subtle to moderate changes in gray whale behaviour.


KEY WORDS: Western gray whale · Behaviour · Seismic survey · Anthropogenic disturbance · Movement · Respiration


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Cite this article as: Gailey G, Sychenko O, McDonald T, Racca R, Rutenko A, Bröker K (2016) Behavioural responses of western gray whales to a 4-D seismic survey off northeastern Sakhalin Island, Russia. Endang Species Res 30:53-71. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00713

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