Acoustic Monitoring of Marine Mammals and Ship Traffic in the Amundsen Gulf

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region

Tags: hydroacoustic survey, marine mammals, bowhead whales

Principal Investigator: Insley, Stephen J (12)
Licence Number: 15470
Organization: Wildlife Conservation Society Canada
Licenced Year(s): 2017 2016 2015 2014
Issued: May 28, 2014

Objective(s): To track the temporal and spatial aspects of the change in killer whale occurrence in order to understand its effect on species management and subsistence hunting in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region; to monitor the timing and numbers of marine mammals, particularly bowhead whales as well as abundance of shipping activity, particularly large vessels (e.g. freighters) transiting the entrance to the Amundsen Gulf near to Sachs Harbour.

Project Description: There are three main objectives of the current study. The first objective is to track the temporal and spatial aspects of the change in killer whale occurrence in order to understand its effect on species management and subsistence hunting in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR).

The second objective is monitor the timing and numbers of marine mammals, particularly bowhead whales, in the entrance to the Amundsen Gulf near to Sachs Harbour.

The third objective is to monitor the timing and abundance of shipping activity, particularly large vessels (e.g. freighters) transiting the entrance to the Amundsen Gulf near to Sachs Harbour.

To accomplish the objectives, the research team have designed a program to work with the local community of Sachs Harbour to remotely monitor both marine mammal and shipping activities at the entrance to the Amundsen Gulf in the eastern Beaufort Sea. The approach involves deploying passive acoustic monitors and recording any anecdotal siting records. The main monitoring effort will involve passive acoustic monitors (PAM). These are acoustic dataloggers that can be left unattended to record sounds and then retrieved for downloading and analysis. The plan is to deploy a single PAM in the region of Cape Kellett near to Sachs Harbour for the duration of the ice-free season, roughly mid-June to mid-August. The datalogger will be anchored at an approximate depth of 20-50 m with a surface buoy for retrieval. Once retrieved, the acoustic data will be analyzed for ship and marine mammal occurrence, frequency, and intensity. Of particular interest are those marine mammals that are most susceptible to ship strikes (e.g. bowhead whales) and any indication of killer whales.

In addition to the acoustic monitoring activities, the research team will also be monitoring and recording all anecdotal siting’s of killer whales by any vessels in the vicinity. These reports and the acoustic results will be quantified, summarized and reported back to the community of Sachs Harbour and to the broader Inuvialuit community. If done in a timely manner, the team expect the results to potentially lead to the avoidance of both lethal and sub-lethal impacts on Arctic marine mammals, as well as help to understand how an increased abundance of apex predators can affect marine mammal behavior. The results are expected to provide valuable and timely information that is likely to be important for dealing with the ecosystem change.

Community members and Aboriginal organizations are involved during the set-up and design phase of the project through formal and informal discussions at meetings such as the Inuvialuit Game Council (IGC), the Beaufort Sea Partnership (BSP), and the ArcticNet Conference, as well as through subsequent email and telephone conversations. Additionally, discussions with the local Hunters and Trappers Committee (HTC) in Sachs Harbour are key to the project focus as well as local logistics. The results of these conversations are critical in determining where to focus effort, who will be the primary community contact for local assistance, and when and where to best deploy acoustic dataloggers. During the course of the project, continuous feedback from all involved is planned. This is key for refining the original decisions made and determining how best to move forward.

During the winter following the first season of data collection and after the data has been summarized, the Principal Investigator expects to travel to the community of Sachs Harbour in order to share the results with the community during an open HTC meeting. The results are also to be shared with the wider ISR community during an IGC meeting. If possible, the timing of both presentations and discussions will occur during the same trip in order to cut down on expenses. During these meetings discussions will focus on what worked and did not work, possible changes to protocol in order to improve the process, and plans for the subsequent season.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from June 15, 2014 to October 1, 2014.