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ESR 18:95-103 (2012)  -  DOI:

Spitsbergen’s endangered bowhead whales sing through the polar night

Kathleen M. Stafford1,*, Sue E. Moore2, Catherine L. Berchok2, Øystein Wiig3, Christian Lydersen4, Edmond Hansen4, Dirk Kalmbach5, Kit M. Kovacs

1Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98105, USA
2National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Seattle, Washington 98115, USA
3National Centre for Biosystematics, Natural History Museum, University of Oslo, 0138 Oslo, Norway
4Norwegian Polar Institute, 9296 Tromsø, Norway
5Alfred Wegener Institute, 27568 Bremerhaven, Germany

ABSTRACT: Bowhead whales Balaena mysticetus are long-lived cetaceans, uniquely adapted among the baleen whales to live year-round in the Arctic. All bowhead whale populations were greatly reduced by commercial whaling from the 1600s through the 1800s, with the largest, the Spitsbergen population in the North Atlantic, depleted to the point of extinction. Recent sightings of bowhead whales west of Svalbard precipitated an effort to listen for their vocalizations via 2 recorders deployed in 2008 on oceanographic moorings spaced 95 km apart at 78.8° N latitude in the Fram Strait. Year-round acoustic records were examined for the occurrence of bowhead whale sounds. Simple calls, call sequences, and complex songs were recorded. Repeated call sequences or bowhead whale songs were detected nearly every hour from early November 2008 through late April 2009 on the western Fram Strait recorder. More than 60 unique songs were recorded from October 2008 to April 2009. In contrast, simple calls and call sequences were the most common signals recorded on the central Fram Strait instrument. Peak levels of song production coincided with the period of lowest water temperature, dense ice concentration, and almost complete darkness. Given the diversity, loudness, and period over which songs were recorded, western Fram Strait appears to be a wintering ground—and potentially a mating area—for this Critically Endangered population of bowhead whales.

KEY WORDS: Bowhead whale · Balaena mysticetus · Fram Strait · Song · Acoustic sampling · Sea ice

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Cite this article as: Stafford KM, Moore SE, Berchok CL, Wiig Ø and others (2012) Spitsbergen’s endangered bowhead whales sing through the polar night. Endang Species Res 18:95-103.

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