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Erica Escajeda

Research Assistant



Department Affiliation

Polar Science Center


2000-present and while at APL-UW

Variability in fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) occurrence in the Bering Strait and southern Chukchi Sea in relation to environmental factors

Escajeda, E., K.M. Stafford, R.A. Woodgate, K.L. Laidre, "Variability in fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) occurrence in the Bering Strait and southern Chukchi Sea in relation to environmental factors," Deep Sea Res. II, 177, doi:0.1016/j.dsr2.2020.104782, 2020.

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4 May 2020

Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) are common summer visitors to the Pacific Arctic, migrating through the Bering Strait and into the southern Chukchi Sea to feed on seasonally-abundant prey. The abundance and distribution of fin whales in the Chukchi Sea varies from year-to-year, possibly reflecting fluctuating environmental conditions. We hypothesized that fin whale calls were most likely to be detected in years and at sites where productive water masses were present, indicated by low temperatures and high salinities, and where strong northward water and wind velocities, resulting in increased prey advection, were prevalent. Using acoustic recordings from three moored hydrophones in the Bering Strait region from 2009–2015, we identified fin whale calls during the open-water season (July–November) and investigated potential environmental drivers of interannual variability in fin whale presence. We examined near-surface and near-bottom temperatures (T) and salinities (S), wind and water velocities through the strait, water mass presence as estimated using published T/S boundaries, and satellite-derived sea surface temperatures and sea-ice concentrations. Our results show significant interannual variability in the acoustic presence of fin whales with the greatest detections of calls in years with contrasting environmental conditions (2012 and 2015). Colder temperatures, lower salinities, slower water velocities, and weak southward winds prevailed in 2012 while warmer temperatures, higher salinities, faster water velocities, and moderate southward winds prevailed in 2015. Most detections (96%) were recorded at the mooring site nearest the confluence of the nutrient-rich Anadyr and Bering Shelf water masses, ~35 km north of Bering Strait, indicating that productive water masses may influence the occurrence of fin whales. The disparity in environmental conditions between 2012 and 2015 suggests there may be multiple combinations of environmental factors or other unexamined variables that draw fin whales into the Pacific Arctic.

Identifying shifts in maternity den phenology and habitat characteristics of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in Baffin Bay and Kane Basin

Escajeda, E., K.L. Laidre, E.W. Born, Ø. Wiig, S. Atkinson, M. Dyck, S.H. Ferguson, and N.J. Lunn, "Identifying shifts in maternity den phenology and habitat characteristics of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in Baffin Bay and Kane Basin," Polar Biol., 41, 87-100, doi:10.1007/s00300-017-2172-6, 2017.

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1 Jan 2018

The phenology and habitat selection of polar bear (Ursus maritimus) maternity dens may shift over time in response to changing environmental conditions. We compared maternity den phenology and habitat characteristics using satellite telemetry data from adult female polar bears from the Baffin Bay (BB) (n = 16 dens; 2009–2015) and Kane Basin (KB) subpopulations (n = 3 dens; 2012–2015) to previously published maternity den data from 1991 to 1997 (BB n = 8 dens; KB n = 3 dens). BB maternity denning duration decreased from a mean of 194.1 days (SD = 21.0 days, n = 8) in the 1990s, to a mean of 167.1 days (SD = 27.6 days, n = 16; p = 0.017) in the 2000s. Delayed den entry accounted for shorter denning durations (1990s entry date x = 7 September; 2000s entry date x = 5 October; p = 0.018). For dens habitat characteristics of which could be measured, BB maternity dens in the 2000s occurred at higher elevations (x = 707.0 m, SD = 284.9 m, n = 15; p = 0.003) and greater slopes (x = 23.1°, SD = 7.4°; p = 0.003) than the 1990s (elevation x ± SD = 351.3 ± 194.5 m, n = 8; slope x ± SD = 11.9 ± 6.4±). Aspect also significantly differed between the 1990s (x = 51.3±) and 2000s BB maternity dens (x = 199.7±; Watson’s U2p = 0.042). KB dens were not statistically compared due to low sample size (n = 3 dens in both periods). Shifts in sea ice phenology and snow availability may explain the observed changes.

Acoustics Air-Sea Interaction & Remote Sensing Center for Environmental & Information Systems Center for Industrial & Medical Ultrasound Electronic & Photonic Systems Ocean Engineering Ocean Physics Polar Science Center