Wind-dependent beluga whale dive behavior in Barrow Canyon Alaska
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Wind-dependent beluga whale dive behavior in Barrow Canyon Alaska

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  • Journal Title:
    Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers
  • Description:
    Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) are the most abundant cetacean in the Arctic. The Barrow Canyon region, Alaska, is a hotspot for Pacific Arctic belugas, likely because the oceanographic environment provides reliable foraging opportunities. Fronts are known to promote the concentration of planktonic prey; when Barrow-area winds are weak or from the west, a front associated with the Alaskan Coastal Current (ACC) intensifies. This front is weakened or disrupted when strong easterly winds slow or displace the ACC. To determine if winds influence the diving depth of belugas, we used generalized linear mixed models (GLMM) to examine how the dive behavior of animals instrumented with satellite-linked time-depth recorders varied with wind conditions. When projected along-canyon winds are from the WSW and the front associated with the ACC is enhanced, belugas tend to target shallower depths (10–100 m) associated with the front. In contrast, when strong winds from the ENE displaced the ACC, belugas tended to spend more time at depths >200 m where the Arctic halocline grades into relatively warmer Atlantic Water (AW). The probability of diving to >200 m, the number of dives >200 m, and the amount of time spent below 200 m were all significantly related to along-canyon wind stress (p<0.01). From these results and known relationships between wind stress, currents and frontal structure in Barrow Canyon and the characteristic vertical distribution of Arctic cod, we infer that the probability of belugas targeting different depth regimes is based upon how wind stress affects the relative foraging opportunities between these depth regimes. Belugas are known to target AW throughout the Beaufort Sea; however, this is the first work to show that the probability of targeting the AW layer is related to wind stress.
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  • Source:
    Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers, 118: 57-65
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    Accepted Manuscript
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