Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography (2013)

DOI: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2013.03.011


As part of the Bering Sea Project, cetacean surveys were conducted to describe distribution and estimate abundance on the eastern Bering Sea shelf. Three marine mammal observers conducted visual surveys along transect lines sampled during the Alaska Fisheries Science Center walleye pollock assessment survey in June and July of 2008 and 2010. Distribution and abundance in 2008 and 2010 (cold years) are compared with results from a similar survey conducted in 2002 (a warm year), as the only three years that the entire survey area was sampled; patterns largely match those previously observed. Abundance estimates for comparable areas in 2002, 2008 and 2010 were as follows: humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae): 231 (CV=0.63), 436 (CV=0.45), and 675 (CV=0.80); fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus): 419 (CV=0.33), 1368 (CV=0.34), and 1061 (CV=0.38); minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata): 389 (CV=0.52), 517 (CV=0.69), and 2020 (CV=0.73); Dall’s porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli): 35,303 (CV=0.53), 14,543 (CV=0.32), and 11,143 (CV=0.32); and harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena): 1971 (CV=0.46), 4056 (CV=0.40), and 833 (CV=0.66). It should be noted that these abundance estimates are not corrected for biases due to perception, availability, or responsive movement. Estimates for humpback, fin and minke whales increased from 2002 to 2010, while those for harbor and Dall’s porpoise decreased; trends were significant for fin whales. It is likely that changes in estimated abundance are due at least in part to shifts in distribution and not just changes in overall population size. Annual abundance estimates were examined by oceanographic domain. Humpback whales were consistently concentrated in coastal waters north of Unimak Pass. Fin whales were broadly distributed in the outer domain and slope in 2008 and 2010, but sightings were sparse in 2002. Minke whales were distributed throughout the study area in 2002 and 2008, but in 2010 they were concentrated in the outer domain and slope. In 2002, Dall’s porpoise were sighted on the western edge of the middle domain and in the outer domain and slope, but shifted west out of the middle domain in 2008 and 2010. In 2002 and 2008, harbor porpoise were consistently found in the middle domain with scattered sightings in the outer domain and slope. In 2010, there was a multi-species aggregation between Navarin and Pervenets canyons.