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Acoustic occurrence of baleen whales, particularly blue, fin, and humpback whales, off eastern Canada, 2015–2017

Julien J. -Y. Delarue*, Hilary Moors-Murphy, Katie A. Kowarski, Genevieve E. Davis, Ildar R. Urazghildiiev, S. Bruce Martin

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Six baleen species occur off eastern Canada, but little is known of their year-round occurrence across this large region. This complicates identifying areas that are important to them and may require critical habitat designation, especially for those species considered at risk. This is particularly true between fall and spring because of a lack of visual survey effort. The main objective of this paper is to provide a year-round and pluriannual description of the minimum acoustic occurrence of baleen whales, particularly blue (Balaenoptera musculus), fin (B. physalus), and humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). Twenty-five acoustic recorders were deployed off eastern Canada between May 2015 and November 2017, and the data were analyzed using a combination of automated detectors and manual validation to identify vocalizations produced by these species. Blue, fin, and humpback whales occurred off eastern Canada year-round, a finding which contrasts the traditional seasonal latitude migration narrative for these species. The Scotian shelf region and Flemish Pass-Orphan Basin areas seem particularly important for these animals and should be the focus of future research. Sei (B. borealis), minke (B. acutorostrata), and North Atlantic right (Eubalaena glacialis) whale vocalizations also occurred in the data but were not adequately captured by the adopted methodology. Coarse patterns of occurrence are presented for these species as a foundation for more detailed analyses. This study is the first to cover eastern Canadian waters for an extended continuous period and provides a baseline against which future changes can be assessed.