Determining the species assemblage and habitat use of cetaceans in the Svalbard Archipelago, based on observations from 2002 to 2014

This study found that white whales were frequently observed in areas with moderate ice cover, even after the collapse of annually-formed sea ice in western Svalbard in 2006, which is related to their use of tidal glacier fronts, where pieces of glacier ice are often found in significant concentrations

Luke Storrie; Christian Lydersen; Magnus Andersen; Russell B. Wynn; Kit M. Kovacs

2018

Scholarcy highlights

  • Understanding both the geographic range and the habitat use of a species is fundamental to characterizing its ecology and enabling predictions regarding how it will react to environmental changes
  • These data are stored in the NPI’s Marine Mammal Sightings Database. Contributors to this database include Norwegian Coast Guard vessels, research vessels operating in Svalbard waters from the Institute of Marine Research, the Norwegian Polar Institute and other organizations, the Governor of Svalbard’s field inspectors, and marine cruise tourist operators
  • The opportunistic nature of the observations means there is no way to account for multiple sightings of the same individual, tourist ships have a system whereby they avoid being in sight of each other as much as is possible, which minimizes resighting of the same individual on shorttime frames
  • It is important to note that the sightings in this study were not part of systematically designed surveys, and we have no accurate measures of sighting effort, though the routes covered by the expedition vessel have remained very similar in most years in the study period
  • This study found that white whales were frequently observed in areas with moderate ice cover, even after the collapse of annually-formed sea ice in western Svalbard in 2006, which is related to their use of tidal glacier fronts, where pieces of glacier ice are often found in significant concentrations
  • The continental slope was an important habitat for these species, they were observed across the whole study areas in somewhat overlapping habitats, which is likely explained by their flexibility in prey choice and niche partitioning

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