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An ecosystem approach to quantifying behavioural and energetic impacts of anthropogenic disturbance to Arctic whales (Arctic whales and underwater noise)

Dalhousie University

Arctic Ocean, Project, Protect and restore ecosystems and biodiversity, Skills, knowledge and technology for all, Understand and beat marine pollution

Arctic marine mammals are living in a rapidly changing environment. However, the impacts of increasing human activity on northern whale species and populations is poorly understood.

Specifically, the loss of pristine conditions from anthropogenic sources of noise is anticipated to lead to varying levels of impact ranging from acoustic masking and behavioural disturbance to extreme cases of hearing loss and death. Furthermore, risk of serious injury or mortality from increased vessel traffic in the Canadian Arctic is of growing concern for whale species. We are seeking to employ a multi-faceted research approach using an experimental control study to quantify acoustic impacts of vessel noise and sonar exposure on Arctic whales and assess ship strike risk.

Combining aerial behavioural observations (drones) with underwater biologging technology (long term and coarse scale satellite telemetry tags with time-depth recorders logging 2D movement over horizontal and vertical planes and short-term high-resolution biologgers recording 3D dive behaviour and received sound), prey field mapping (oceanographic sampling) and vessel location and noise data (AIS), we will determine how: 1) anthropogenic noise impacts Arctic whale behaviour and vocalizations (call and echolocation rates)?; 2) diving behaviour affects vessel strike risk; 3) we can mitigate impacts to reduce risk of disturbance, injury and mortality. The outcomes of our research will directly support risk mitigation actions by the Department of National Defense regarding using sonar in the Arctic and will contribute to Fisheries and Oceans Canada adaptive responses to marine shipping and environmental impacts on Arctic whales. Our project will create stronger Indigenous partnerships and engage coastal communities by assessing cumulative effects of marine shipping and fishery activities on Arctic whales.

Contact: Sarah Fortune | Email: