MEPS 541:245-264 (2015)  -  doi:10.3354/meps11530

Regional diving behavior of Pacific Arctic beluga whales Delphinapterus leucas and possible associations with prey

Donna D. W. Hauser1,*, Kristin L. Laidre1,2, Sandra L. Parker-Stetter1,3, John K. Horne1, Robert S. Suydam4, Pierre R. Richard

1University of Washington, School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences, Box 355020, Seattle, WA 98195, USA
2University of Washington, Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, 1013 NE 40th Street, Seattle, WA 98195, USA
3Fisheries Resource Assessment and Monitoring Division, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2725 Montlake Boulevard East, Seattle, WA 98112, USA
4North Slope Borough, Department of Wildlife Management, PO Box 69, Barrow, AK 99723, USA
5Freshwater Institute, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 501 University Crescent, Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N6, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Two populations of beluga whales Delphinapterus leucas in the Pacific Arctic make seasonal migrations to regions characterized by diverse bathymetry and hydrography, yet there is limited information contrasting behavior and foraging across regions. We used satellite-linked time-depth recorders attached to 30 belugas from 1997 to 2012 to infer the depths at which belugas forage seasonally and regionally. We also examined the correspondence between patterns of beluga diving and the vertical distribution of a primary prey species, Arctic cod Boreogadus saida, within the western Beaufort Sea. A suite of regional diving metrics revealed that beluga dive behavior varied among regions and sometimes between populations. Estimates of occupancy time at depth, in addition to maximum and modal dive depths for 6 h periods, suggested that Eastern Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea belugas were regularly diving to the seafloor in shallow shelf regions. Along slope margins and in the deep Canada Basin (>3000 m), specific portions of the water column were more frequently targeted. The greatest maximum daily dive depths were >900 m in the Canada Basin. Arctic cod were most abundant at 200-300 m in the western Beaufort Sea, and beluga dives within the survey area also most frequently targeted these depths. These results are consistent with a hypothesis that Arctic cod are a primary prey item for Pacific Arctic belugas and suggest that foraging belugas dive to depths that maximize prey encounters. In the context of a rapidly transforming Arctic ecosystem increasingly exposed to anthropogenic activities, our results quantify the ecological importance of key regions for these 2 populations.


KEY WORDS: Diving behavior · Arctic marine ecology · Foraging ecology · Optimal foraging · Chukchi Sea · Beaufort Sea · Boreogadus saida


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Cite this article as: Hauser DDW, Laidre KL, Parker-Stetter SL, Horne JK, Suydam RS, Richard PR (2015) Regional diving behavior of Pacific Arctic beluga whales Delphinapterus leucas and possible associations with prey. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 541:245-264

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