ESR prepress abstract  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00848

Gunshot call production by the North Pacific right whale Eubalaena japonica in the southeastern Bering Sea

Jessica L. Crance*, Catherine L. Berchok, Jennifer L. Keating

*Email: Jessica.Crance@noaa.gov

ABSTRACT: During dedicated surveys for critically endangered North Pacific right whales (NPRW, Eubalaena japonica) in the Bering Sea, focal follows (FFs) were combined with passive acoustic monitoring to correlate vocal activity with dive behavior. During FFs, impulsive gunshot calls (hereafter gunshots), similar to those produced by other right whale populations, were localized to male and female NPRWs. The timing of gunshots correlated strongly with diving behavior observed during the FFs. Log survivorship analysis of inter-blow intervals showed a Bout Criterion Interval of 40 s, separating the data into shorter surfacings and longer dives. For both, gunshots were skewed closer to the end of the sequence (modal gunshot to blow times: 5 s for dives, 7 s for surfacings) than the beginning (modal blow to gunshot times: 22 s for dives, 13 s for surfacings). Gunshots were more commonly produced during dives than surfacings. Mean gunshot calling rate during FFs was 133.0 calls h–1 (range: 38.9 – 425.0). Other NPRW calls, including upcalls, the predominant call used to identify right whales acoustically, were not detected during the FFs. To determine comparative call detection rates, an additional 180 hours of non-FF recordings were analyzed. Gunshots were detected ~50 times more frequently than upcalls (mean: 228.3 vs. 4.3 calls h–1, respectively), with a maximum gunshot calling rate of 835.7 calls h–1. This is the first study to definitively attribute gunshots to NPRW, and demonstrates the importance of including gunshots in passive acoustic studies, which will greatly increase NPRW detectability while supporting more accurate determinations of their spatio-temporal distribution.