Acoustic Monitoring of Scotian Shelf Northern Bottlenose Whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus)
Moors, Hilary B.
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An important step for protecting Endangered species is the identification of critical habitat. This can be especially challenging for deep ocean species. Northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus) are deep-diving beaked whales of the North Atlantic. A population of this species occurs along the edge of the Scotian Shelf primarily in three submarine canyons that have been identified as critical habitat for the population: the Gully (the largest submarine canyon off eastern North America), Shortland Canyon and Haldimand Canyon. The Scotian Shelf population is considered Endangered mainly due to its small numbers and the anthropogenic threats it faces. The primary objective of my research was to further identify critical habitat of the population using passive acoustic monitoring, increasing knowledge of how the whales use the canyons and adjacent areas throughout the year. A review of the literature on cetacean associations with submarine canyons indicates that various mechanisms may act to attract cetaceans to these features. While many different species occur in canyons globally, they appear to be particularly important habitat for beaked whales. I developed an automated click detection algorithm customized for detecting northern bottlenose whale echolocation clicks, and long-term acoustic recordings were analyzed to examine the presence and relative abundance of northern bottlenose whales on the Scotian Slope over various spatial and temporal scales. The whales occurred in the area consistently throughout the year and all three canyons, as well as the area between canyons, appeared to be important foraging grounds for the population. The whales displayed diurnal foraging patterns. I also investigated niche separation between northern bottlenose whales and sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus), another deep diving species. The presence of the two species was positively correlated over all spatial and temporal scales examined. These results indicate that areas within and adjacent to the Gully are important foraging grounds for northern bottlenose whales throughout the year. Furthermore, in addition to the canyons themselves, the shelf-edge areas between the Gully, Shortland and Haldimand canyons may constitute critical habitat for the whales. This research will be used to inform management measures relevant to the protection and recovery of this Endangered population.