National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2012

Cetacean distribution and abundance in relation to oceanographic domains on the eastern Bering Sea shelf: 1999–2004

Friday, N.A., J.M. Waite, A.N. Zerbini, and S.E. Moore

Deep-Sea Res. II, 65–70, 260–272, doi: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2012.02.006 (2012)

Visual line transect surveys for cetaceans were conducted on the eastern Bering Sea shelf in association with pollock stock assessment surveys aboard the NOAA ship Miller Freeman in June and July of 1999, 2000, 2002, and 2004. Transect survey effort ranged from 1188 km in 1999 to 3761 km in 2002. Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) were the most common large whale in all years except 2004 when humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) were more abundant. Dall's porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli) were the most common small cetacean in all years. Abundance estimates were calculated by year for each oceanographic domain: coastal, middle, and outer/slope. The middle and outer/slope domains were divided into two strata (“north” and “south”) because of variable survey effort. The distribution and abundance of baleen whales changed between the earlier (colder) and later (warmer) survey years. Fin whales consistently occupied the outer shelf and secondarily the middle shelf, and their abundance was an order of magnitude greater in cold compared to warm years. Humpback whales “lived on the margin” of the northern Alaska Peninsula, eastern Aleutian Islands and Bristol Bay; their preferred habitat is possibly associated with areas of high prey availability due to nutrient upwelling and aggregation mechanisms. Minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) occur shoreward of fin whales in the outer and middle shelf and in coastal habitats along the Alaska Peninsula. The highest abundance for this species was observed in a cold (1999) year. No clear relationship emerged for odontocetes with regard to warm and cold years. Dall's porpoise occupied both outer and middle domains and harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) were more common in middle and coastal domains. This study provided a unique, broad-scale assessment of cetacean distribution and abundance on the eastern Bering Sea shelf and a baseline for future comparisons.

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