The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (2023)

DOI: 10.1121/10.0021163


Harbour porpoises are visually inconspicuous but highly soniferous echolocating marine predators that are regularly studied using passive acoustic monitoring (PAM). PAM can provide quality data on animal abundance, human impact, habitat use, and behaviour. The probability of detecting porpoise clicks within a given area (⁠P-hat⁠) is a key metric when interpreting PAM data. Estimates of P-hat can be used to determine the number of clicks per porpoise encounter that may have been missed on a PAM device, which, in turn, allows for the calculation of abundance and ideally non-biased comparison of acoustic data between habitats and time periods. However, P-hat is influenced by several factors, including the behaviour of the vocalising animal. Here, the common implicit assumption that changes in animal behaviour have a negligible effect on P-hat between different monitoring stations or across time is tested. Using a simulation-based approach informed by acoustic biologging data from 22 tagged harbour porpoises, it is demonstrated that porpoise behavioural states can have significant (up to 3× difference) effects on P-hat. Consequently, the behavioural state of the animals must be considered in analysis of animal abundance to avoid substantial over- or underestimation of the true abundance, habitat use, or effects of human disturbance.