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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01005

North Atlantic right whale shift to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2015 as monitored by long-term passive acoustics

Yvan Simard*, Nathalie Roy, Samuel Giard, Florian Aulanier

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: This paper contributes to documenting the 2010s’ distribution change of North Atlantic right whales (NARWs) when they largely abandoned their traditional summering grounds in the Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy/Scotian shelf. Data from a year-round passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) network in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are exploited to build the time series of NARW incursions into this inland sea of the Northwest Atlantic, from June 2010 to November 2018. NARWs have visited the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence every year from June to January, until ice freeze-up. Earliest detections were at the end of April and the latest in mid-January. Call occurrence peaked between August and the end of October. NARW contact calls were not detected at the most upstream station at Les Escoumins, in the Lower St. Lawrence estuary, nor the northeastern connection of Belle Isle Strait with the Atlantic that was monitored from November 2010 to November 2011. Their mean daily occurrence in the feeding grounds off Gaspé quadrupled after 2015 compared to 2011–2014. Long-term continuous PAM here provided invaluable information to document this marine mammal distribution shift.