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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 474:287-297 (2013)  -  DOI:

Correlation of a strong Alaska Coastal Current with the presence of beluga whales Delphinapterus leucas near Barrow, Alaska

Kathleen M. Stafford1,*, Stephen R. Okkonen2, Janet T. Clarke3

1Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98105, USA
2Institute of Marine Science, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775, USA
3Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), Buckley, Washington 98321, USA

ABSTRACT: Oceanographic features and physical processes in the ocean can create regions where prey, and therefore predators, may accumulate. Beluga whales Delphinapterus leucas are the most numerous cetacean in the Arctic. In the Alaskan Beaufort Sea, they prefer continental slope habitat in summer and autumn, presumably because such areas provide enhanced foraging opportunities. Passive acoustic detections of beluga whale calls, current velocity measurements, historical wind records, and 29 yr of beluga whale observations from aerial surveys were used to explore the hypothesis that the foraging success of beluga whales in Barrow Canyon and along the western Beaufort Sea slope is enhanced when the Alaska Coastal Current (ACC) is well-developed and flows east-northeastward and is diminished when the flow of the ACC and its shelf break extension are reversed. Aerial sightings of beluga whales, average observed beluga whale group size, and hours with whale vocalizations were more common when the ACC was well-developed and flowed east-northeastward. When the ACC flow is strong, it is separated from Arctic basin waters by a well-defined front that promotes aggregation of prey species. We speculate that the greater numbers of animals per group sighted and hours with recorded vocalizations may be indicative of enhanced foraging opportunities for beluga whales.

KEY WORDS: Beluga whale · Delphinapterus leucas · Alaska Coastal Current · Aerial survey · Passive acoustic monitoring

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Cite this article as: Stafford KM, Okkonen SR, Clarke JT (2013) Correlation of a strong Alaska Coastal Current with the presence of beluga whales Delphinapterus leucas near Barrow, Alaska. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 474:287-297.

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