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Donna Hauser

Marine Biologist



Department Affiliation

Polar Science Center


2000-present and while at APL-UW

Vulnerability of Arctic marine mammals to vessel traffic in the increasingly ice-free Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route

Hauser, D.D.W., K.L. Laidre, and H.L. Stern, "Vulnerability of Arctic marine mammals to vessel traffic in the increasingly ice-free Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route," Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA, EOR, doi:10.1073/pnas.1803543115, 2018

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2 Jul 2018

The fabled Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route that were once the quests of early Western explorers are now increasingly sea ice–free, with routine vessel transits expected by midcentury. The potential impacts of this novel vessel traffic on endemic Arctic marine mammal (AMM) species are unknown despite their critical social and ecological roles in the ecosystem and widely recognized susceptibility to ice loss. We developed a vulnerability assessment of 80 subpopulations of seven AMM species to vessel traffic during the ice-free season. Vulnerability scores were based on the combined influence of spatially explicit exposure to the sea routes and a suite of sensitivity variables. More than half of AMM subpopulations (42/80) are exposed to open-water vessel transits in the Arctic sea routes. Narwhals (Monodon monoceros) were estimated to be most vulnerable to vessel impacts, given their high exposure and sensitivity, and polar bears (Ursus maritimus) were estimated to be the least vulnerable because of their low exposure and sensitivity. Regions with geographic bottlenecks, such as the Bering Strait and eastern Canadian Arctic, were characterized by two to three times higher vulnerability than more remote regions. These pinch points are obligatory pathways for both vessels and migratory AMMs, and so represent potentially high conflict areas but also opportunities for conservation-informed planning. Some of the species and regions identified as least vulnerable were also characterized by high uncertainty, highlighting additional data and monitoring needs. Our quantification of the heterogeneity of risk across AMM species provides a necessary first step toward developing best practices for maritime industries poised to advance into this rapidly changing seascape.

Indirect effects of sea ice loss on summer–fall habitat and behaviour for sympatric populations of an Arctic marine predator

Hauser, D.D.W., K.L. Laidre, H.L. Stern, R.S. Suydam, and P.R. Richard, "Indirect effects of sea ice loss on summer–fall habitat and behaviour for sympatric populations of an Arctic marine predator," Divers. Distrib., 24, 791-799, doi:10.1111/ddi.12722, 2018.

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1 Jun 2018

Climate change is fundamentally altering habitats, with complex consequences for species across the globe. The Arctic has warmed 2–3 times faster than the global average, and unprecedented sea ice loss can have multiple outcomes for ice‐associated marine predators. Our goal was to assess impacts of sea ice loss on population‐specific habitat and behaviour of a migratory Arctic cetacean.

Using satellite telemetry data collected during summer–fall from sympatric beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) populations ("Chukchi" and "Beaufort" belugas), we applied generalized estimating equations to evaluate shifts in sea ice habitat associations and diving behaviour during two periods: 1993–2002 ("early") and 2004–2012 ("late"). We used resource selection functions to assess changes in sea ice selection as well as predict trends in habitat selection and "optimal" habitat, based on satellite‐derived sea ice data from 1990 to 2014.

Sea ice cover declined substantially between periods, and Chukchi belugas specifically used significantly lower sea ice concentrations during the late than early period. Use of bathymetric features did not change between periods for either population. Population‐specific sea ice selection, predicted habitat and the amount of optimal habitat also generally did not change during 1990–2014. Chukchi belugas tracked during 2007–2012 made significantly more long‐duration and deeper dives than those tracked during 1998–2002.

Taken together, our results suggest bathymetric parameters are consistent predictors of summer–fall beluga habitat rather than selection for specific sea ice conditions during recent sea ice loss. Beluga whales were able to mediate habitat change despite their sea ice associations. However, trends towards prolonged and deeper diving possibly indicate shifting foraging opportunities associated with ecological changes that occur in concert with sea ice loss. Our results highlight that responses by some Arctic marine wildlife can be indirect and variable among populations, which could be included in predictions for the future.

Aerial survey estimates of abundance of the eastern Chukchi Sea stock of beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) in 2012

Lowry, L.F., M.C.S. Kingsley, D.D.W. Hauser, J. Clarke, and R. Suydam, "Aerial survey estimates of abundance of the eastern Chukchi Sea stock of beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) in 2012," Arctic, 70, 273-286, doi:10.14430/arctic4667, 2017.

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1 Sep 2017

The eastern Chukchi Sea (ECS) stock of beluga whales is one of three stocks in western Alaska that are co-managed by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Alaska Beluga Whale Committee. Abundance of this stock was estimated as 3710 in 1991 from incomplete data. Analysis of data from satellite-linked time-depth recorders (SDRs) attached to belugas in summer concentration areas of the ECS and Beaufort Sea (BS) stocks provided an overview of beluga distribution and movements and allowed the identification of an area (140° W to 157° W in the BS) and a time period (19 July – 20 August) in which the distributions of the two stocks do not overlap. Aerial survey data were collected by the Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM) project in that region and time period in 2012. We used those data in a line transect analysis that estimated there were 5547 (CV = 0.22) surface-visible belugas in the study area. Data from SDRs were used to develop correction factors to account for animals that were missed because they were either outside of the study area or diving too deep to be seen, resulting in a total abundance estimate of 20 752 (CV = 0.70). The average annual Alaska Native subsistence harvest from the ECS stock (57) is about 0.3% of the population estimate. Without data collected by the ASAMM project and from satellite-linked tags, this analysis would not have been possible. Additional surveys and tagging of ECS belugas are warranted.

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In The News

Ships Threaten Arctic Marine Mammals

Scientific American, Adam Aton

New research suggests that marine mammals in the Arctic could be threatened by increasing ship traffic as the region’s ice melts. Narwhals and beluga whales could be especially vulnerable because of their exposure to ships and their sensitivity to disturbances, according to a study published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

3 Jul 2018

Study identifies which marine mammals are most at risk from increased Arctic ship traffic

UW News, Hannah Hickey

In recent decades parts of the Arctic seas have become increasingly ice-free in late summer and early fall. As sea ice is expected to continue to recede due to climate change, seasonal ship traffic from tourism and freight is projected to rise. A study from the University of Washington and the University of Alaska Fairbanks is the first to consider potential impacts on the marine mammals that use this region during fall and identify which will be most vulnerable.

2 Jul 2018

Beluga whales dive deeper, longer to find food in Arctic

UW News, Michelle Ma

Beluga whales that spend summers feeding in the Arctic are diving deeper and longer to find food than in earlier years, when sea ice covered more of the ocean for longer periods, according to a new analysis led by University of Washington researchers.

20 Feb 2018

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