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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 411:285-297 (2010)  -  DOI:

Bowhead whale Balaena mysticetus seasonal selection of sea ice

Steven H. Ferguson1,2,*, Larry Dueck1, Lisa L. Loseto3, Sebastián P. Luque2

1Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 501 University Crescent, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3T 2N6, Canada
2University of Manitoba, Department of Biological Sciences, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3T 2N2, Canada
3University of Victoria/Institute of Ocean Sciences, 9860 West Saanich Rd, Sidney, British Columbia, V8L 4B2, Canada

ABSTRACT: Highly mobile large-bodied organisms are adapted to seasonal variation associated with polar environments. We used satellite tracking data from 27 bowhead whales Balaena mysticetus of the Eastern Canada-West Greenland population to test for movement and habitat selection of the highly variable sea ice landscape that encompasses near-complete coverage in winter to near-complete absence in summer. We demarcated 2 bowhead whale seasons based on movement behaviour identified from inflection points of polynomial regression analysis of movement rate: winter (28 December to 15 March, 16.6 ± 2.65 km d–1) and summer (27 June to 27 December, 31.9 ± 1.05 km d–1). Resource selection functions were used to evaluate bowhead whale seasonal selection of sea ice landscape (coverage, thickness, and floe size). Movement and habitat use differed between Nunavut tagging sites likely as a consequence of sexual and reproductive segregation. Whales selected relatively low ice coverage, thin ice, and small floe areas in winter close to the maximum ice extent, presumably to reduce risk of ice entrapment while remaining within ice. In contrast, whales selected high ice coverage, thick ice, and large floe size areas in summer, presumably to reduce risk of killer whale predation while providing enriched feeding opportunities. Our results indicate that this large-bodied animal can moderate use of the large-scale fluctuations in seasonal sea ice typical of polar environments.

KEY WORDS: Arctic · Climate change · Conservation · Foraging behavior · Habitat selection · Ice entrapment · Killer whales · Predation · Summer · Winter

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Cite this article as: Ferguson SH, Dueck L, Loseto LL, Luque SP (2010) Bowhead whale Balaena mysticetus seasonal selection of sea ice. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 411:285-297.

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