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Tyack P.L.,Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution | Zimmer W.M.X.,North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Undersea Research Center | Moretti D.,Naval Undersea Warfare Center | Southall B.L.,Southall Environmental Associates | And 11 more authors.

Beaked whales have mass stranded during some naval sonar exercises, but the cause is unknown. They are difficult to sight but can reliably be detected by listening for echolocation clicks produced during deep foraging dives. Listening for these clicks, we documented Blainville's beaked whales, Mesoplodon densirostris, in a naval underwater range where sonars are in regular use near Andros Island, Bahamas. An array of bottom-mounted hydrophones can detect beaked whales when they click anywhere within the range. We used two complementary methods to investigate behavioral responses of beaked whales to sonar: an opportunistic approach that monitored whale responses to multi-day naval exercises involving tactical mid-frequency sonars, and an experimental approach using playbacks of simulated sonar and control sounds to whales tagged with a device that records sound, movement, and orientation. Here we show that in both exposure conditions beaked whales stopped echolocating during deep foraging dives and moved away. During actual sonar exercises, beaked whales were primarily detected near the periphery of the range, on average 16 km away from the sonar transmissions. Once the exercise stopped, beaked whales gradually filled in the center of the range over 2-3 days. A satellite tagged whale moved outside the range during an exercise, returning over 2-3 days post-exercise. The experimental approach used tags to measure acoustic exposure and behavioral reactions of beaked whales to one controlled exposure each of simulated military sonar, killer whale calls, and band-limited noise. The beaked whales reacted to these three sound playbacks at sound pressure levels below 142 dB re 1 μPa by stopping echolocation followed by unusually long and slow ascents from their foraging dives. The combined results indicate similar disruption of foraging behavior and avoidance by beaked whales in the two different contexts, at exposures well below those used by regulators to define disturbance. Source

Schick R.S.,Duke University | Halpin P.N.,Duke University | Read A.J.,Duke University | Urban D.L.,Duke University | And 11 more authors.
Marine Ecology Progress Series

The understanding of a species' niche is fundamental to the concept of ecology, yet relatively little work has been done on niches in pelagic marine mammal communities. Data collection on the distribution and abundance of marine mammals is costly, time consuming and complicated by logistical difficulties. Here we take advantage of a data archive comprising many different datasets on the distribution and abundance of cetaceans from Nova Scotia through the Gulf of Mexico in an effort to uncover community structure at large spatial scales (1000s of km). We constructed a multivariate ordination of the species data, tested for group structure that might exist within the ordination space, and determined how these groups might differ in environmental space. We examined 3 biogeographic regions: the oceanic waters north and south of Cape Hatteras, NC, and the Gulf of Mexico. North of Hatteras, we found 2 main groups split along a temperature and chlorophyll gradient, with most piscivores being found in cooler, more productive waters of the continental shelf, and most teuthivores being found farther offshore in warmer, less productive waters at the shelf break (200 m isobath). South of Hatteras, we found 3 groups, with the largest group being in warmer, lower chlorophyll waters that are closest to shore. In the Gulf of Mexico, we found 7 groups arrayed along a bottom depth gradient. We also tested the effect of taxonomically lumping different beaked whale species on ordination results. Results showed that when beaked whales were identified to the species level, they clustered out into distinct niches that are separate from those of other Odontocete groups. These results add to an increasing understanding of wildlife habitat associations and niche partitionings in the community structure of pelagic species, and provide important baseline information for future population monitoring efforts. © Inter-Research 2011. Source

Deruiter S.L.,University of St. Andrews | Boyd I.L.,University of St. Andrews | Claridge D.E.,Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation | Clark C.W.,Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology | And 3 more authors.
Marine Mammal Science

In 2007 and 2008, controlled exposure experiments were performed in the Bahamas to study behavioral responses to simulated mid-frequency active sonar (MFA) by three groups of odontocetes: false killer whales, Pseudorca crassidens; short-finned pilot whales, Globicephala macrorhynchus; and melon-headed whales, Peponocephala electra. An individual in each group was tagged with a Dtag to record acoustic and movement data. During exposures, some individuals produced whistles that seemed similar to the experimental MFA stimulus. Statistical tests were thus applied to investigate whistle-MFA similarity and the relationship between whistle production rate and MFA reception time. For the false killer whale group, overall whistle rate and production rate of the most MFA-like whistles decreased with time since last MFA reception. Despite quite low whistle rates overall by the melon-headed whales, statistical results indicated minor transient silencing after each signal reception. There were no apparent relationships between pilot whale whistle rates and MFA sounds within the exposure period. This variability of responses suggests that changes in whistle production in response to acoustic stimuli depend not only on species and sound source, but also on the social, behavioral, or environmental contexts of exposure. © 2012 by the Society for Marine Mammalogy. Source

Fearnbach H.,University of Aberdeen | Fearnbach H.,Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation | Durban J.,Southwest Fisheries Science Center | Durban J.,Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation | And 5 more authors.
Ecological Applications

Identifying demographic changes is important for understanding population dynamics. However, this requires long-term studies of definable populations of distinct individuals, which can be particularly challenging when studying mobile cetaceans in the marine environment. We collected photo-identification data from 19 years (1992-2010) to assess the dynamics of a population of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) restricted to the shallow (<7 m) waters of Little Bahama Bank, northern Bahamas. This population was known to range beyond our study area, so we adopted a Bayesian mixture modeling approach to mark-recapture to identify clusters of individuals that used the area to different extents, and we specifically estimated trends in survival, recruitment, and abundance of a "resident" population with high probabilities of identification. There was a high probability ( p=0.97) of a long-term decrease in the size of this resident population from a maximum of 47 dolphins (95% highest posterior density intervals, HPDI = 29-61) in 1996 to a minimum of just 24 dolphins (95% HPDI = 14-37) in 2009, a decline of 49% (95% HPDI =-5% to -75%). This was driven by low per capita recruitment (average ;0.02) that could not compensate for relatively low apparent survival rates (average ;0.94). Notably, there was a significant increase in apparent mortality (∼5 apparent mortalities vs. ∼2 on average) in 1999 when two intense hurricanes passed over the study area, with a high probability ( p = 0.83) of a drop below the average survival probability (∼0.91 in 1999; ∼0.94, on average). As such, our mark- recapture approach enabled us to make useful inference about local dynamics within an open population of bottlenose dolphins; this should be applicable to other studies challenged by sampling highly mobile individuals with heterogeneous space use. © 2012 by the Ecological Society of America. Source

Dunn C.,Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation | Claridge D.,Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation
Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom

Killer whales (Orcinus orca) have a cosmopolitan distribution, yet little is known about populations that inhabit tropical waters. We compiled 34 sightings of killer whales in the Bahamas, recorded from 1913 to 2011. Group sizes were generally small (mean = 4.2, range = 1-12, SD = 2.6). Thirteen sightings were documented with photographs and/or video of sufficient quality to allow individual photo-identification analysis. Of the 45 whales photographed, 14 unique individual killer whales were identified, eight of which were re-sighted between two and nine times. An adult female (Oo6) and a now-adult male (Oo4), were first seen together in 1995, and have been re-sighted together eight times over a 16-yr period. To date, killer whales in the Bahamas have only been observed preying on marine mammals, including Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis), Fraser's dolphin (Lagenodelphis hosei), pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps) and dwarf sperm whale (Kogia sima), all of which are previously unrecorded prey species for Orcinus orca. © 2013 Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom . Source

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