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Bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) face threats from diminishing sea ice and increasing anthropogenic activities in the Arctic. Passive acoustic monitoring is the most effective means for monitoring their distribution and population trends, based on the detection of their calls. Passive acoustic monitoring, however, is influenced by the sound propagation environment and ambient noise levels, which impact call detection probability. Modeling and simulations were used to estimate detection probability for bowhead whale frequency-modulated calls in the 80-180 Hz frequency band with and without sea ice cover and under various noise conditions. Sound transmission loss for bowhead calls is substantially greater during ice-covered conditions than during open-water conditions, making call detection ~ 3 times more likely in open-water. Estimates of daily acoustic detection probability were used to compensate acoustic detections for sound propagation and noise effects in two recording datasets in the northeast Chukchi Sea, on the outer shelf and continental slope, collected between 2012 and 2013. The compensated acoustic density suggests a decrease in whale presence with the retreat of sea ice at these recording sites. These results highlight the importance of accounting for effects of the environment on ambient noise and acoustic propagation when interpreting results of passive acoustic monitoring. © 2022. The Author(s).


Joshua M Jones, John A Hildebrand, Bruce J Thayre, Ellen Jameson, Robert J Small, Sean M Wiggins. The influence of sea ice on the detection of bowhead whale calls. Scientific reports. 2022 May 20;12(1):8553

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PMID: 35595792

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