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Kristin Laidre

Principal Oceanographer

Assistant Professor, Fisheries

Email

klaidre@apl.washington.edu

Phone

206-616-9030

Department Affiliation

Polar Science Center

Kristin Laidre's Website

http://staff.washington.edu/klaidre

Publications

2000-present and while at APL-UW

Modeling climate change impacts on phenology and population dynamics of migratory marine species

Anderson, J.J., E. Gurarie, C. Bracis, B.J. Burke, and K.L. Laidre, "Modeling climate change impacts on phenology and population dynamics of migratory marine species," Ecol. Model., 264, 83-97, doi:10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2013.03.009, 2013.

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24 Aug 2013

We review literature concerning the impacts of climate change on the migration of marine species, with an emphasis on the adaptation of migration phenology through genetic tracking and phenotypic plasticity. We then develop an individual-based modeling framework characterizing the effects of climate change on phenology and population dynamics. In the framework, an animal's ability to match its environmental preferences, its bioclimate envelope, to the environmental conditions by adjusting its migration timing between foraging and breeding habitats determines its condition, survival, and fecundity. Climate-induced changes in the envelope produce timing mismatches that result in a population adapting its phenology through both genetic and plastic processes. Model results suggest: (1) the temporal size of the bioclimate envelope is an important determinant of a population's sensitivity to climate change and susceptibility to extinction, (2) population extinction can occur if the rate of change in the timing of the envelope exceeds the rate its phenology changes or if the variability in the envelope exceeds the population's inherent capacity for variability, (3) a population with migration timing cued by photoperiod is expected to exhibit weaker phenotypic plasticity than one cued by temperature, and (4) population extinction in response to climate change follows a threshold pattern such that population size may not be a reliable indicator of extinction threat, although variability in average individual condition across years may be an extinction threat indicator. Finally, while the model is intentionally simplistic, we discuss how it can be extended to cover more complex interactions.

A metapopulation model for Canadian and West Greenland narwhals

Heide-Jørgensen, M.P., P.R. Richard, R. Dietz, and K.L. Laidre, "A metapopulation model for Canadian and West Greenland narwhals," Anim. Conserv., 16, 331-343, doi:10.1111/acv.12000, 2013.

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1 Jun 2013

A model of the metapopulation structure of narwhals Monodon monoceros in Baffin Bay, Hudson Bay and adjacent waters is proposed based on satellite telemetry data collected over two decades from six coastal aggregations of narwhals in the eastern Canadian high Arctic, Hudson Bay and West Greenland. In addition, data on seasonal catches of narwhals in 11 Inuit communities are used to provide information on the occurrence of narwhals. The tracking data suggest that disjunct summer aggregations of narwhals are, to some extent, demographically independent subpopulations, with minimal or no exchange with other summering aggregations. We propose that these should be considered separate stocks for management purposes. Year-round satellite tracking of individuals demonstrates that whales return to the same summering areas the following year, suggesting inter-annual site fidelity. We propose that the narwhals in Canada constitute five separate stocks, with limited exchange between three of the stocks. Coastal summer aggregations in Greenland constitute two stocks in addition to two fall and winter aggregations supplied by narwhals from several summering areas. Several narwhal stocks mix on the wintering areas in Baffin Bay, but the metapopulation structure is likely maintained through a combination of life-history traits and migratory routes, as mating most likely occurs after the initiation of the return migration toward summering areas. The metapopulation structure in Baffin Bay narwhals will be impacted differentially by Inuit subsistence hunting, depending on the migratory schedule of narwhals and dates at which whales occur in different seasonal hunting areas. It is therefore important to identify which narwhal stocks contribute to which subsistence hunts in order to assess the sustainability of those hunts. This paper proposes a preliminary stock model for this purpose.

Females roam while males patrol: Comparing movements of adult male and adult female polar bears during the springtime breeding season

Laidre, K.L., E.W. Born, E. Gurarie, Ø. Wiig, H. Stern, R. Dietz, and Harry Stern, "Females roam while males patrol: Comparing movements of adult male and adult female polar bears during the springtime breeding season," Proc. R. Soc. B, 280, doi:10.1098/rspb.2012.2371, 2013.

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1 Feb 2013

Intraspecific differences in movement behaviour reflect different tactics used by individuals or sexes to favour strategies that maximize fitness. We report movement data collected from n = 23 adult male polar bears with novel ear-attached transmitters in two separate pack ice subpopulations over five breeding seasons. We compared movements with n = 26 concurrently tagged adult females, and analysed velocities, movement tortuosity, range sizes and habitat selection with respect to sex, reproductive status and body mass. There were no differences in 4-day displacements or sea ice habitat selection for sex or population. By contrast, adult females in all years and both populations had significantly more linear movements and significantly larger breeding range sizes than males. We hypothesized that differences were related to encounter rates, and used observed movement metrics to parametrize a simulation model of male–male and male–female encounter. The simulation showed that the more tortuous movement of males leads to significantly longer times to male–male encounter, while having little impact on male–female encounter. By contrast, linear movements of females are consistent with a prioritized search for sparsely distributed prey. These results suggest a possible mechanism for explaining the smaller breeding range sizes of some solitary male carnivores compared to females.

More Publications

Marine mammals

Laidre, K.L., "Marine mammals," In Arctic Report Card, M.O. Jeffries, J.A. Richter-Menge, and J.E. Overland, eds., 77-81 (NOAA Climate Program Office, 2012).

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5 Dec 2012

Highlights

Species richness for core Arctic marine mammals is highest in three regions: Baffin Bay, Davis Strait and the Barents Sea, where nine of eleven species are present. Most other regions have seven or eight core species, while the Beaufort Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk regions have only six species.

Two acoustic recorders in Fram Strait during the International Polar Year (2007-2009) documented critically endangered Spitzbergen bowhead whales singing almost continuously through the winter.

In Hudson Bay, later departures of beluga from their summering grounds have been linked to warmer and more spatially more heterogeneous sea temperatures.

The utility of harvest recoveries of marked individuals to assess polar bear (Ursus maritimus) survival

Peacock, E., J. Laake, K.L. Laidre, E.W. Born, and S.N. Atkinson, "The utility of harvest recoveries of marked individuals to assess polar bear (Ursus maritimus) survival," Arctic, 65, 391-400, 2012.

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1 Dec 2012

Management of polar bear (Ursus maritimus) populations requires the periodic assessment of life history metrics such as survival rate. This information is frequently obtained during short-term capture and marking efforts (e.g., over the course of three years) that result in hundreds of marked bears remaining in the population after active marking is finished. Using 10 additional years of harvest recovery subsequent to a period of active marking, we provide updated estimates of annual survival for polar bears in the Baffin Bay population of Greenland and Canada. Our analysis suggests a decline in survival of polar bears since the period of active marking that ended in 1997; some of the decline in survival can likely be attributed to a decline in springtime ice concentration over the continental shelf of Baffin Island. The variance around the survival estimates is comparatively high because of the declining number of marks available; therefore, results must be interpreted with caution. The variance of the estimates of survival increased most substantially in the sixth year post-marking. When survival estimates calculated with recovery-only and recapture-recovery data sets from the period of active marking were compared, survival rates were indistinguishable. However, for the period when fewer marks were available, survival estimates were lower using the recovery-only data set, which indicates that part of the decline we detected for 2003 %u2013 09 may be due to using only harvest recovery data. Nevertheless, the decline in the estimates of survival is consistent with population projections derived from harvest numbers and earlier vital rates, as well as with an observed decline in the extent of sea ice habitat.

A metapopulation model for Canadian and West Greenland narwhals

Heide-Jørgensen, M.P., P.R. Richard, R. Dietz, and K.L. Laidre, "A metapopulation model for Canadian and West Greenland narwhals," Anim. Conserv., EOR, doi:10.1111/acv.12000, 2012.

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13 Nov 2012

A model of the metapopulation structure of narwhals Monodon monoceros in Baffin Bay, Hudson Bay and adjacent waters is proposed based on satellite telemetry data collected over two decades from six coastal aggregations of narwhals in the eastern Canadian high Arctic, Hudson Bay and West Greenland. In addition, data on seasonal catches of narwhals in 11 Inuit communities are used to provide information on the occurrence of narwhals. The tracking data suggest that disjunct summer aggregations of narwhals are, to some extent, demographically independent subpopulations, with minimal or no exchange with other summering aggregations. We propose that these should be considered separate stocks for management purposes. Year-round satellite tracking of individuals demonstrates that whales return to the same summering areas the following year, suggesting inter-annual site fidelity. We propose that the narwhals in Canada constitute five separate stocks, with limited exchange between three of the stocks. Coastal summer aggregations in Greenland constitute two stocks in addition to two fall and winter aggregations supplied by narwhals from several summering areas. Several narwhal stocks mix on the wintering areas in Baffin Bay, but the metapopulation structure is likely maintained through a combination of life-history traits and migratory routes, as mating most likely occurs after the initiation of the return migration toward summering areas. The metapopulation structure in Baffin Bay narwhals will be impacted differentially by Inuit subsistence hunting, depending on the migratory schedule of narwhals and dates at which whales occur in different seasonal hunting areas. It is therefore important to identify which narwhal stocks contribute to which subsistence hunts in order to assess the sustainability of those hunts. This paper proposes a preliminary stock model for this purpose.

Do trophic cascades affect the storage and flux of atmospheric carbon? An analysis of sea otters and kelp forests

Wilmers, C.C., J.A. Estes, M. Edwards, K.L. Laidre, and B. Konar, "Do trophic cascades affect the storage and flux of atmospheric carbon? An analysis of sea otters and kelp forests," Frontier Ecol. Environ., 10, 409-415, doi:10.1890/110176, 2012.

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1 Oct 2012

We combine data collected from the past 40 years to estimate the indirect effects of sea otters (Enhydra lutris) on ecosystem carbon (C) production and storage across their North American range, from Vancouver Island to the western edge of Alaska's Aleutian Islands. We find that sea otters, by suppressing sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus spp) populations, allow kelp (Order Laminariales) ecosystems to develop with a net primary productivity (NPP) of 313%u2013900 grams C per square meter per year (g C m-2 yr-1) and biomass density of 101–180 grams C per square meter (g C m-2). In the absence of sea otters, these areas would have an NPP of 25–70 g C m-2 yr-1 and biomass density of 8–14 g C m-2. Over an ecosystem area of approximately 5.1 x 1010 m2, the effect of sea otter predation on living kelp biomass alone represents a 4.4-to 8.7-teragram increase in C storage. At 2012 prices (US$47 per ton of C), this stored C would be valued at US$205 million–$408 million on the European Carbon Exchange. Although questions remain concerning the pathways and compartments of kelp C flux and storage, sea otters undoubtedly have a strong influence on these elements of the C cycle. Predator-induced trophic cascades likely influence the rates of C flux and storage in many other species and ecosystems.

Identifying gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) foraging grounds along the Chukotka Peninsula, Russia, using satellite telemetry

Heide-Jørgensen, M.P., K.L. Laidre, D. Litovka, M. Villum Jensen, J.M. Grebmeier, and B.I. Sirenko, "Identifying gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) foraging grounds along the Chukotka Peninsula, Russia, using satellite telemetry," Polar Biol., 35, 1035-1045, doi: 10.1007/s00300-011-1151-6, 2012.

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1 Jul 2012

The purpose of this study was to evaluate summer and fall residency and habitat selection by gray whales, Eschrichtius robustus, together with the biomass of benthic amphipod prey on the coastal feeding grounds along the Chukotka Peninsula. Thirteen gray whales were instrumented with satellite transmitters in September 2006 near the Chukotka Peninsula, Russia. Nine transmitters provided positions from whales for up to 81 days. The whales travelled within 5 km of the Chukotka coast for most of the period they were tracked with only occasional movements offshore. The average daily travel speeds were 23 km day-1 (range 9–53 km day-1). Four of the whales had daily average travel speeds <1 km day-1 suggesting strong fidelity to the study area. The area containing 95% of the locations for individual whales during biweekly periods was on average 13,027 km2 (range 7,097–15,896 km2). More than 65% of all locations were in water <30 m, and between 45 and 70% of biweekly kernel home ranges were located in depths between 31 and 50 m. Benthic density of amphipods within the Bering Strait at depths <50 m was on average ~54 g wet wt m2 in 2006. It is likely that the abundant benthic biomass is more than sufficient forage to support the current gray whale population. The use of satellite telemetry in this study quantifies space use and movement patterns of gray whales along the Chukotka coast and identifies key feeding areas.

Recent abundance of bowhead whales in Isabella Bay, Canada

Hansen, R.G., M.P. Heide-Jørgensen, and K.L. Laidre, "Recent abundance of bowhead whales in Isabella Bay, Canada," J. Cetacean Res. Manage., 12, 317-319, 2012.

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1 Jul 2012

An aerial survey of the late-summer concentration of bowhead whales in Isabella Bay, Nunavut, Canada, was conducted on 19 September 2009. A total of 28 sightings were obtained during 155 km survey effort. The resulting abundance of 1,105 (95% CI: 532–2,294) was corrected for whales that were submerged during the passage of the survey plane but not for whales missed by the observers because >90% of the sightings were detected by both platforms.

Spring partitioning of Disko Bay, West Greenland, by arctic and subarctic baleen whales

Laidre, K.L., and M.P. Heide-Jørgensen, "Spring partitioning of Disko Bay, West Greenland, by arctic and subarctic baleen whales," ICES J. Mar. Sci., 69, doi:10.1093/icesjms/fss095, 2012.

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24 May 2012

Movements of co-occurring bowhead (Balaena mysticetus) and humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae) whales in Disko Bay, West Greenland, were examined using satellite telemetry. Data on movements, habitat use, and phenology were collected from tagged 49 bowheads and 44 humpbacks during the transition from sea-ice breakup to open water between 2008 and 2010. Bowhead whales began their northward spring migration around 27 May (median day-of-the-year departure date = 147, interquartile range 141–153) and were distributed broadly in northern and central Disko Bay in water depths between 100 and 400 m. Humpback whales arrived in Disko Bay no later than 2 June and were located in shallow water (<100 m) along the coasts of the mainland or Disko Island. Trends in departure date from Disko Bay were significant for bowhead whales (~15 d later, p < 0.001) between two periods: 2001–2006 and 2008–2010. Many species are predicted to arrive earlier in the Arctic and to expand their range northwards with reduced sea ice and increasing temperatures under climate change. Quantifying the spatial and temporal relationships between co-occurring Arctic and Subarctic top predators allows for baseline insight to be gained on how climate change might alter interspecies interactions.

The Northwest Passage opens for bowhead whales

Heide-Jorgensen, M.P., K.L. Laidre, L.T. Quakenbush, and J.J. Citta, "The Northwest Passage opens for bowhead whales," Biol. Lett., 8, 270-273, doi:10.1098/rsbl.2011.0731, 2011.

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23 Apr 2012

The loss of Arctic sea ice is predicted to open up the Northwest Passage, shortening shipping routes and facilitating the exchange of marine organisms between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. Here, we present the first observations of distribution overlap of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) from the two oceans in the Northwest Passage, demonstrating this route is already connecting whales from two populations that have been assumed to be separated by sea ice. Previous satellite tracking has demonstrated that bowhead whales from West Greenland and Alaska enter the ice-infested channels of the Canadian High Arctic during summer. In August 2010, two bowhead whales from West Greenland and Alaska entered the Northwest Passage from opposite directions and spent approximately 10 days in the same area, documenting overlap between the two populations.

First acoustic recordings of narwhals (Monodon monoceros) in winter

Stafford, K.M., K.L. Laidre and M.P. Heide-Jørgensen, "First acoustic recordings of narwhals (Monodon monoceros) in winter," Mar. Mammal Sci., 28, E197-E207, doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.2011.00500.x, 2012.

1 Apr 2012

Rate of increase and current abundance of humpback whales in West Greenland

Heide-Jørgensen, K.L. Laidre, R.G. Hansen, M.L. Burt, M. Simon, D.L. Borchers, J. Hansen, K. Harding, M. Rasmussen, R. Dietz, and J. Teilmann, "Rate of increase and current abundance of humpback whales in West Greenland," J. Cetacean Res. Manage., 12, 1-14, 2012.

1 Apr 2012

Geographic variation in cranial morphology of narwhals (Monodon monoceros) from Greenland and the eastern Canadian Arctic

Wiig, O., M.P. Heide-Jorgensen, K.L. Laidre, E. Garde, and R.R. Reeves, "Geographic variation in cranial morphology of narwhals (Monodon monoceros) from Greenland and the eastern Canadian Arctic," Polar Biol., 35, 63-71, doi: 10.1007/s00300-011-1032-z, 2011.

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1 Jan 2012

We analyzed variation in nine non-metric and eight metric variables in the skulls of 132 narwhals (Monodon monoceros) from five localities in Greenland (Inglefield Bredning, Melville Bay, Uummannaq, Disko Bay, and Scoresby Sound) and one in the eastern Canadian Arctic (Eclipse Sound). Metric variables were used to compare the combined Disko Bay and Uummannaq samples with the samples from Inglefield Bredning and Scoresby Sound using three different multivariate techniques for each sex. None of the results were significant. Seven of the non-metric variables were independent of age and sex and were used in comparing samples from the six localities. No differences were found among the four localities in West Greenland, but differences were found in two of the non-metric variables between the combined West Greenland sample and the one from Scoresby Sound. A major shortcoming of the analysis based on metric data was the small sample size from several of the areas, which resulted in low statistical power. Genetic as well as environmental factors could explain the differences detected here between narwhals living along the west and the east coasts of Greenland.

Unusual narwhal sea ice entrapments and delayed autumn freeze-up trends

Laidre, K.L., M.P. Heide-Jørgensen, H. Stern, and P. Richard, "Unusual narwhal sea ice entrapments and delayed autumn freeze-up trends," Polar Biol., 35, 149-154, doi:10.1007/s00300-011-1036-8, 2012.

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1 Jan 2012

Sea ice entrapments of narwhals (Monodon monoceros) occur when rapid changes in weather and wind conditions create a formation of fast ice in bays or passages used by whales. Between 2008 and 2010, four entrapments of narwhals were reported in Canada and Greenland. In each case, large groups (40–600 individuals) succumbed in the sea ice at three separate summering localities, two of these where entrapments had never before been reported. We examined long-term trends in autumn freeze-up timing (date when sea ice concentration rises above some threshold) on the 6 largest narwhal summering areas using sea ice concentration from satellite passive microwave data (1979–2009). We found strongly positive and significant trends (P < 0.001) in progressively later dates of autumn freeze-up in all summering areas. Autumn freeze-up occurs between 0.5 and 1 day later per year, or roughly 2–4 weeks later, over the 31-year time series. This indicates that sea ice conditions on narwhal summering areas are changing rapidly. The question remains whether entrapment events on summering areas are random or whether narwhals are adapting to changes in sea ice freeze-up by prolonging their summer residence time.

Recaptures of genotyped bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) in Eastern Canada and West Greenland

Wiig, O., M.P. Heide-Jorgensen, C. Lindquist, K.L. Laidre, L. Postma, L. Dueck, P. Palsboll, and L. Bachmann, "Recaptures of genotyped bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) in Eastern Canada and West Greenland," Endangered Species Res., 14, 235-242, doi:10.3354/esr00365, 2011.

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23 Sep 2011

Multi-locus genotype and sex were used to identify individual bowhead whales Balaena mysticetus from 710 samples collected between 1995 and 2010 at 4 localities in eastern Canada (Foxe Basin, Pelly Bay, Repulse Bay, and Cumberland Sound) and at 1 locality in West Greenland (Disko Bay). In total, 29 recaptures of the same individuals were identified between years, of which 26 individuals were recaptured within the same locality. The remaining 3 were recaptured between sampling localities, from 2 putative International Whaling Commission (IWC) stocks: the Hudson Bay-Foxe Basin stock and the Baffin Bay-Davis Strait stock. These recaptures agree with satellite tracking results that demonstrate movement between IWC stocks and question whether these stocks are true biological entities. The intervals between capture and recapture of females in Disko Bay ranged from 1 to 8 yr. The observed number of multi-year recaptures compared to the expected numbers of recaptures did not indicate any clear cyclicity in the use of Disko Bay consistent with the notion that the migration pattern of females to this area might be tied to their reproductive cycles. A mark-recapture estimate of whales identified in 2010 compared to all identifications between 2000 and 2009 resulted in an estimate of 1410 bowhead whales (SE = 320, 95% CI: 783-2038) constituting the spring aggregation in Disko Bay. The estimate for the female portion of the aggregation was 999 individuals (SE = 231, 95% CI: 546-1452). The multi-year cycle of appearance in Disko Bay emphasizes the necessity for identifying whales over multiple years for inclusion in mark-recapture estimation.

Life in the lead: extreme densities of narwhals Monodon monoceros in the offshore pack ice

Laidre, K.L., and M.P. Heide-Jorgensen, "Life in the lead: extreme densities of narwhals Monodon monoceros in the offshore pack ice," Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser., 423, 269-278, doi:10.3354/meps08941 , 2011.

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10 Feb 2011

There is a paucity of information on abundance, densities, and habitat selection of narwhals Monodon monoceros in the offshore pack ice of Baffin Bay, West Greenland, despite the critical importance of winter foraging regions and considerable sea ice declines in the past decades. We conducted a double-platform visual aerial survey over a narwhal wintering ground to obtain pack ice densities and develop the first fully corrected abundance estimate using point conditional mark-recapture distance sampling. Continuous video recording and digital images taken along the trackline allowed for in situ quantification of winter narwhal habitat and for the estimation of fine-scale narwhal habitat selection and habitat-specific sighting probabilities. Abundance at the surface was estimated at 3484 (coefficient of variation [CV] = 0.46) including whales missed by observers. The fully corrected abundance of narwhals was 18044 (CV = 0.46), or approximately one-quarter of the entire Baffin Bay population. The narwhal wintering ground surveyed (~9500 km2) had 2.4 to 3.2% open water based on estimates from satellite imagery (NASA Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) and 1565 digital photographic images collected on the trackline. Thus, the ~18000 narwhals had access to 233 km2 of open water, resulting in an average density of ~77 narwhals km-2 open water. Narwhal sighting probability near habitats with <10% or 10 to 50% open water was significantly higher than sighting probability in habitats with >50% open water, suggesting narwhals select optimal foraging areas in dense pack ice regardless of open water availability. This study provides the first quantitative ecological data on densities and habitat selection of narwhals in pack ice foraging regions that are rapidly being altered with climate change.

A whale of an opportunity: Examining the vertical structure of chlorophyll-a in high Arctic waters using instrumented marine predators

Laidre, K.L., M.P. Heide-Jorgensen, M.L. Logsdon, L. Delwiche, T.G. Nielsen, "A whale of an opportunity: Examining the vertical structure of chlorophyll-a in high Arctic waters using instrumented marine predators," Mar. Biol. Res., 6, 519-529, doi:10.1080/17451000903505616, 2010.

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6 Nov 2010

Sixty hours of direct measurements of fluorescence were collected from six bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) instrumented with fluorometers in Greenland in April 2005 and 2006. The data were used to (1) characterize the three-dimensional spatial pattern of chlorophyll-a (Chl-a) in the water column, (2) to examine the relationships between whale foraging areas and productive zones, and (3) to examine the correlation between whale-derived in situ values of Chl-a and those from concurrent satellite images using the NASA MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) EOS-AQUA satellite (MOD21, SeaWifs analogue OC3M and SST MOD37).

Bowhead whales traversed 1600 km2, providing information on diving, Chl-a structure and temperature profiles to depths below 200 m. Feeding dives frequently passed through surface waters (>50 m) and targeted depths close to the bottom, and whales did not always target patches of high concentrations of Chl-a in the upper 50 m. Five satellite images were available within the periods whales carried fluorometers. Whales traversed 91 pixels collecting on average 761 s (SD 826) of Chl-a samples per pixel (0–136 m). The depth of the Chl-a maximum ranged widely, from 1 to 66 m. Estimates of Chl-a made from the water-leaving radiance measurements using the OC3M algorithm were highly skewed with most samples estimated as <1 mg m-3 Chl-a, while data collected from whales had a broad distribution with Chl-a reaching >9 mg m-3. The correlation between the satellite-derived and whale-derived Chl-a maxima was poor, a linear fit explained only 10% of the variance.

Narwhals document continued warming of southern Baffin Bay

Laidre, K.L., M.P. Heide-Jorgensen, W. Ermold, and M. Steele, "Narwhals document continued warming of southern Baffin Bay," J. Geophys. Res., 115, doi:10.1029/2009JC005820, 2010.

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23 Oct 2010

We report on wintertime data collected from Baffin Bay and northern Davis Strait, a major gateway linking the Arctic with the subpolar North Atlantic, using narwhals (Monodon monoceros) as an oceanographic sampling platform. Fourteen narwhals were instrumented with satellite-linked time-depth-temperature recorders between 2005 and 2007. Transmitters collected and transmitted water column temperature profiles from each dive between December and April, where >90% of maximum daily dive depths reached the bottom. Temperature measurements were combined with 15 helicopter-based conductivity-temperature-depth (CTD) casts taken in April 2007 across central Baffin Bay and compared with hydrographic climatology values used for the region in Arctic climate models. Winter temperature maxima for whale and CTD data were in good agreement, ranging between 4.0 deg C and 4.6 deg C in inshore and offshore Baffin Bay and in Davis Strait. The warm Irminger Water was identified between 57 deg W and 59 deg W (at 68 deg N) between 200 and 400 m depths. Whale data correlated well with climatological temperature maxima; however, they were on average 0.9 deg C warmer plus/minus 0.6 deg C (P < 0.001). Furthermore, climatology data overestimated the winter surface isothermal layer thickness by 50–80 m.

Our results suggest the previously documented warming in Baffin Bay has continued through 2007 and is associated with a warmer West Greenland Current in both of its constituent water masses. This research demonstrates the feasibility of using narwhals as ocean observation platforms in inaccessible Arctic areas where dense sea ice prevents regular oceanographic measurements and where innate site fidelity, affinity for winter pack ice, and multiple daily dives to >1700 m offer a useful opportunity to sample the area.

Abundance of narwhals (Monodon monoceros) on the hunting grounds in Greenland

Heide-Jorgensen, M.P., K.L. Laidre, M.L. Burt, D.L. Borchers, T.A. Marques, R.G. Hansen, M. Rasmussen, and S. Fossette, "Abundance of narwhals (Monodon monoceros) on the hunting grounds in Greenland," J. Mammol., 91, 1135-1151, 2010.

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1 Oct 2010

Narwhals (Monodon monoceros L.) occur in the Atlantic sector of the Arctic where for centuries they have been subject to subsistence hunting by Inuit in Greenland and Canada. Scientific advice on the sustainable levels of removals from narwhal populations provides the basis for quotas implemented in both Greenland and Canada. The scientific advice relies heavily on extensive aerial surveys that are the only feasible way to acquire data on narwhal densities and abundance throughout their range. In some areas lack of information on abundance, in combination with high exploitation levels, has caused conservation concerns leading to restrictions on the international trade in narwhal tusks. Narwhals also are regarded as highly sensitive to habitat disturbance caused by global warming.

This study analyzed data from aerial sighting surveys covering four major narwhal hunting grounds in Greenland. The surveys were conducted as double observer experiments with 2 independent observation platforms, 1 at the front and 1 at the rear of the survey plane. The sighting data were analyzed using mark-recapture distance sampling techniques that allow for correction for whales that were missed by the observers. The surveys also were corrected for animals that were submerged during the passage of the survey plane, using diving and submergence data from satellite-linked time-depth recorders deployed on 2 free-ranging narwhals.

The abundance of narwhals on the wintering ground in West Greenland in 2006 was 7,819 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 4,358–14,029). The abundances of narwhals in Inglefield Bredning and Melville Bay, northwest Greenland in 2007 were 8,368 (95% CI: 5,209–13,442) and 6,024 (95% CI: 1,403–25,860), respectively. The abundance of narwhals in East Greenland in 2008 was 6,444 (95% CI: 2,505–16,575). These surveys provide the first estimates of narwhal abundance from important hunting areas in East and West Greenland and provide larger and more complete estimates from previously surveyed hunting grounds in Inglefield Bredning. The estimates can be used for setting catch limits for the narwhal harvest in West and East Greenland and as a baseline for examining the effects of climate change on narwhal abundance.

Spatial associations between large baleen whales and their prey in West Greenland

Laidre, K.L., M.P. Heide-Jorgensen, P. Heagerty, A. Cossio, B. Bergstrom, and M. Simon, "Spatial associations between large baleen whales and their prey in West Greenland," Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser., 402, 269-284, doi:10.3354/meps08423, 2010.

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8 Mar 2010

This study combined data on fin whale Balaenoptera physalus, humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae, minke whale B. acutorostrata, and sei whale B. borealis sightings from large-scale visual aerial and ship-based surveys (248 and 157 sightings, respectively) with synoptic acoustic sampling of krill Meganyctiphanes norvegica and Thysanoessa sp. abundance in September 2005 in West Greenland to examine the relationships between whales and their prey.

Krill densities were obtained by converting relationships of volume backscattering strengths at multiple frequencies to a numerical density using an estimate of krill target strength. Krill data were vertically integrated in 25 m depth bins between 0 and 300 m to obtain water column biomass (g m-2) and translated to density surfaces using ordinary kriging. Standard regression models (Generalized Additive Modeling, GAM, and Generalized Linear Modeling, GLM) were developed to identify important explanatory variables relating the presence, absence, and density of large whales to the physical and biological environment and different survey platforms.

Large baleen whales were concentrated in 3 focal areas: (1) the northern edge of Lille Hellefiske bank between 65 and 67 deg N, (2) north of Paamiut at 63 deg N, and (3) in South Greenland between 60 and 61 deg N. There was a bimodal pattern of mean krill density between depths, with one peak between 50 and 75 m (mean 0.75 g m-2, SD 2.74) and another between 225 and 275 m (mean 1.2 to 1.3 g m-2, SD 23 to19). Water column krill biomass was 3 times higher in South Greenland than at any other site along the coast. Total depth-integrated krill biomass was 1.3 x 109 (CV 0.11).

Models indicated the most important parameter in predicting large baleen whale presence was integrated krill abundance, although this relationship was only significant for sightings obtained on the ship survey. This suggests that a high degree of spatio-temporal synchrony in observations is necessary for quantifying predator–prey relationships. Krill biomass was most predictive of whale presence at depths >150 m, suggesting a threshold depth below which it is energetically optimal for baleen whales to forage on krill in West Greenland.

The effect of sea-ice loss on beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) in West Greenland

Heide-Jorgensen, M.P., K.L. Laidre, D. Borchers, T.A. Marques, H. Stern, and M. Simon, "The effect of sea-ice loss on beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) in West Greenland," Polar Res., 29, 198-208, 2010.

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14 Jan 2010

An aerial survey was conducted to estimate the abundance of belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) on their wintering ground in West Greenland in March–April 2006 and 2008. The survey was conducted as a double platform aerial line transect survey, and sampled approximately 17% of the total survey area of ca. 125 000 km2. The abundance of belugas was 10 595 (95% confidence interval 4904–24 650). The largest abundance was found at the northern part of Store Hellefiske Bank, at the eastern edge of the Baffin Bay pack ice, a pattern similar to that found in eight systematic surveys conducted since 1981.

A clear relationship between decreasing sea-ice cover and increasing offshore distance of beluga sightings was established from all previous surveys, suggesting that belugas expand their distribution westward as new areas on the banks of West Greenland open up earlier in spring with reduced sea-ice coverage or early annual ice recession. This is in contrast to the relatively confined distribution of belugas near the coast in limited open areas in the early 1980s, when sea-ice cover was greater. However, the effects of the changes in coastal availability of belugas can also be observed with the correlation between catches from the local Inuit hunt and sea-ice cover, where the catches increased significantly with increasing sea-ice coverage during the period 1954–2006. These results, based on nearly 30 years of dedicated survey effort, are among the first available evidence showing a shift in distribution of an Arctic cetacean in response to changes in sea-ice coverage.

Polar Bears in Northwest Greenland: An Interview Survey about the Catch and the Climate

Born, E.W., A. Heilmann, L. Kielsen Holm, and K.L. Laidre, "Polar Bears in Northwest Greenland: An Interview Survey about the Catch and the Climate," (Monographs on Greenland, vol. 351) (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2010, 250 pp.).

1 Jan 2010

Sexual segregation of common minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) and sex ratio of catches in Greenland

Laidre, K.L., P. Heagerty, M.P. Heide-Jorgensen, L. Witting, and M. Simon, "Sexual segregation of common minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) and sex ratio of catches in Greenland," ICES J. Mar. Sci, 66, 2253-2266, doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsp191, 2009.

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4 Jul 2009

The harvest of common minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) in West Greenland has historically been skewed towards female whales, yet a complete analysis of spatial and temporal patterns of catch sex ratio has never been conducted. We examined trends in the sex ratio of catches over time, season, space, and relative to sea temperature using 2400 records from inshore Greenland subsistence whaling operations (1960–2006) and 2072 records from offshore Norwegian commercial operations (1968–1985).

Logistic regression models were developed to examine the trend in sex ratio in three regions (Northwest, NW; Central West, CW; Southwest, SW) and by latitude. The highly skewed proportion of females in all catches was strongly positively correlated (r2 = 0.8) with latitude in the offshore catches (>100 km). Generalized linear models of inshore catches indicated slightly increasing though non-significant trends in the proportion of females taken off CW and NW Greenland and a significant declining trend off SW Greenland. Sensitivity analyses show that the declining inshore SW trend was entirely accounted for by the past 5 years (2002–2006) of data. Models containing both year and temperature interactions suggested that either parameter provided an equivalent explanation of the variation in trends across regions.

A novel method for identifying behavioral changes in animal movement data

Gurarie, E., R. Andrews, and K.L. Laidre, "A novel method for identifying behavioral changes in animal movement data," Ecol. Lett., 12, 395-408, 2009.

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1 May 2009

A goal of animal movement analysis is to reveal behavioural mechanisms by which organisms utilize complex and variable environments. Statistical analysis of movement data is complicated by the fact that the data are multidimensional, autocorrelated and often marked by error and irregular measurement intervals or gappiness. Furthermore, movement data reflect behaviours that are themselves heterogeneous.

Here, we model movement data as a subsampling of a continuous stochastic processes, and introduce the behavioural change point analysis (BCPA), a likelihood-based method that allows for the identification of significant structural changes. The BCPA is robust to gappiness and measurement error, computationally efficient, easy to implement and reveals structure that is otherwise difficult to discern. We apply the analysis to a GPS movement track of a northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus), revealing an unexpectedly complex diurnal behavioural profile, and demonstrate its robustness to the greater errors associated with the ARGOS tracking system. By informing empirical interpretation of movement data, we suggest that the BCPA can eventually motivate the development of mechanistic behavioural models.

Bowhead whale springtime song off West Greenland

Stafford, K.M., S.E. Moore, K.L. Laidre, and M.P. Heide-Jorgensen, "Bowhead whale springtime song off West Greenland," J. Acoust. Soc. Am., 124, 1-9, doi:10.1121/1.2980443, 2008.

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1 Nov 2008

Three songs were recorded from bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) in Disko Bay, West Greenland, during 59 h of recordings via sonobuoys deployed on seven days between 5 and 14 April 2007. Song elements were defined by units following the protocol of previous description of bowhead whale song. The two most prominent songs were loud, complex, and repeated in long bouts on multiple recording days while the third song was much simpler and recorded on only one day.

Bowhead whale simple calls and faint song elements were also recorded using digital audio tape recorders and a dipping hydrophone deployed from the sea ice approximately 100–150 km southwest of Disko Bay on three separate days suggesting that song is also produced in the central portion of Baffin Bay in winter. Songs recorded in Disko Bay are from an area where approximately 85% of the whales have been determined to be adult females. Although it is not known which sex was singing, we speculate that, as in humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), male bowhead whales may sing to mediate sexual competition or mate selection behaviors. This is the first detailed description of springtime songs for bowhead whales in the eastern Arctic.

Latitudinal gradients in sea ice and primary production determine Arctic seabird colony size in Greenland

Laidre, K.L., M.P. Heide-Jorgensen, J. Nyeland, A. Mosbech, and B. Doertmann, "Latitudinal gradients in sea ice and primary production determine Arctic seabird colony size in Greenland," Proc. R. Soc. B, Biol. Sci., 275, 2695-2702, doi:10.1098/rspb.2008.0874, 2008.

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19 Aug 2008

Sea ice loss will indirectly alter energy transfer through the pelagic food web and ultimately impact apex predators. We quantified spring-time trends in sea ice recession around each of 46 thick-billed murre (Uria lomvia) colonies in west Greenland across 20° of latitude and investigated the magnitude and timing of the associated spring-time primary production. A geographical information system was used to extract satellite-based observations of sea ice concentration from the Nimbus-7 scanning multichannel microwave radiometer (SMMR, 1979–1987) and the Defence Meteorological Satellite Programs Special Sensor Microwave/Imager (SSMI, 1987–2004), and satellite-based observations of chlorophyll a from the moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS: EOS-Terra satellite) in weekly intervals in circular buffers around each colony site (150 km in radius).

Rapid recession of high Arctic seasonal ice cover created a temporally predictable primary production bloom and associated trophic cascade in water gradually exposed to solar radiation. This pattern was largely absent from lower latitudes where little to no sea ice resulted in a temporally variable primary production bloom driven by nutrient cycling and upwelling uncoupled to ice. The relationship between the rate and variability of sea ice recession and colony size of thick-billed murres shows that periodical confinement of the trophic cascade at high latitudes determines the carrying capacity for Arctic seabirds during the breeding period.

Quantifying the sensitivity of arctic marine mammals to climate-induced habitat change

Laidre, K.L., I. Sitrling, L. Lowry, Wiig, M.P. Heide-Jrgensen, and S. Ferguson, "Quantifying the sensitivity of arctic marine mammals to climate-induced habitat change," Ecol. Appl., 18, S97-S125, 2008.

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1 Mar 2008

We review seven Arctic and four subarctic marine mammal species, their habitat requirements, and evidence for biological and demographic responses to climate change. We then describe a pan-Arctic quantitative index of species sensitivity to climate change based on population size, geographic range, habitat specificity, diet diversity, migration, site fidelity, sensitivity to changes in sea ice, sensitivity to changes in the trophic web, and maximum population growth potential (Rmax). The index suggests three types of sensitivity based on: (1) narrowness of distribution and specialization in feeding, (2) seasonal dependence on ice, and (3) reliance on sea ice as a structure for access to prey and predator avoidance. Based on the index, the hooded seal, the polar bear, and the narwhal appear to be the three most sensitive Arctic marine mammal species, primarily due to reliance on sea ice and specialized feeding. The least sensitive species were the ringed seal and bearded seal, primarily due to large circumpolar distributions, large population sizes, and flexible habitat requirements. The index provides an objective framework for ranking species and focusing future research on the effects of climate change on Arctic marine mammals. Finally, we distinguish between highly sensitive species and good indicator species and discuss regional variation and species-specific ecology that confounds Arctic-wide generalization regarding the effects of climate change.

Using narwhals as oceanographic sampling platforms in the high Arctic

Laidre, K.L., and M.P. Heide-Jorgensen, "Using narwhals as oceanographic sampling platforms in the high Arctic," Oceanography, 20, 30-35, 2007.

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1 Dec 2007

Offshore Arctic waters are the most remote and unexplored areas of the Northern Hemisphere. Generally covered by sea ice for most of the year, these waters are characterized by darkness for up to six months and inhospitable temperatures reaching -40°C in mid-winter. With few exceptions, offshore Arctic ecosystems are logistically difficult, or sometimes impossible, to observe with traditional platforms like vessels or airplanes, which can be impacted by severe environmental conditions. Oceanographers are increasingly relying on data collection from nontraditional platforms adapted to the Arctic to investigate major scientific questions about ecosystem changes in the Arctic Ocean.

Role of the bowhead whale as a predator in West Greenland

Laidre, K.L., M.P. Heide-Jorgensen, and T.G. Nielsen, "Role of the bowhead whale as a predator in West Greenland," Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser., 346, 285-297, 2007.

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27 Sep 2007

We examined the spatial and temporal linkage between primary production, zooplankton distribution and density, and bowhead whale Balaena mysticetus foraging behavior in Disko Bay, West Greenland using concurrent ship-based oceanographic and net sampling together with instrumentation of whales with satellite-linked transmitters and dive recorders. Estimates of bowhead whale abundance were used in a bioenergetic model to calculate the potential consumption of zooplankton during their 4 mo stay in Disko Bay. Between 2001 and 2006, 30 whales were fitted with satellite transmitters that provided information on daily movements, and 14 whales were tracked with archival time–depth or time–depth–fluorescence recorders that provided detailed dive data. Simultaneous data were collected on water column structure, phytoplankton and zooplankton density, taxa and biomass at 25 stations south of Disko Island in 2003, 2005 and 2006.

After the retreat of annual winter sea ice, bowhead whales explored a limited area along the south coast of Disko Island and had high interannual site fidelity. Mean dive depths varied between 53 (SD = 35) and 109 (SD = 41) m but maximum dive depths were >400 m. Most dives targeted the bottom and dive durations >40 min were observed for several whales. Available prey for bowhead whales was dominated by calanoid copepods, with Calanus finmarchicus, C. glacialis and C. hyperboreus occurring at 90 to 100% of all stations between 0 and 50 m and contributing 78 ± 25% of the total biomass. Bottom sampling for epizooplankton in 2006 resulted in unprecedented densities of C. finmarchicus, several orders of magnitude higher than at any other depth. Bioenergetic modeling indicated the population consumes ~220 US t of zooplankton per day or >21000 t during the 4 mo stay in Disko Bay. Although the total biomass of zooplankton in the upper 50 m of the water column theoretically could support this predation level, benthic zooplankton densities and behavioral data suggest whales target preascension stage epibenthic copepods in high density patches.

Autumn space use patterns of humpback whales (Megapter novaeangliae) in West Greenland

Heide-Jorgensen, M.P., K.L. Laidre, "Autumn space use patterns of humpback whales (Megapter novaeangliae) in West Greenland," J. Cetacean Res. Manag., 9, 121-126, 2007.

1 Sep 2007

Estimates of large whale abundance in Greenland in September 2005

Heide-Jorgensen, M. Juul Simon, and K.L. Laidre, "Estimates of large whale abundance in Greenland in September 2005," J. Cetacean Res. Manag., 9, 95-104, 2007.

1 Sep 2007

Dynamics of the sea ice edge in Davis Strait

Heide-Jørgensen, M.P., H. Stern, and K.L. Laidre, "Dynamics of the sea ice edge in Davis Strait," J. Mar. Syst., 67, 170-178, doi:10.1016/j.jmarsys.2006.10.011, 2007.

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1 Aug 2007

Sea ice concentration derived from satellite data were used to quantify sea ice characteristics in the Baffin Bay–Davis Strait–Labrador Sea area. The ice edge in Davis Strait extends from Disko Bay in West Greenland 2500 km south to Newfoundland. The mean intercept at the West Greenland coast between 1979 and 2002 was located at 66.9°N, assuming the ice edge was 85% ice concentration. The shallow banks of West Greenland (> 200 m) had, on average, an ice extent covering 30 to 100% of the bank area during March for the 24 year time series. This extent varied in concentration between 39 and 100%. However, intermediate ice concentrations (39–85% ice concentration) covered on average 25% of the banks. The Davis Strait ice edge showed considerable interannual variation correlated with the winter index of the North Atlantic Oscillation and the Arctic Oscillation. No temporal trend in ice extent could be detected over the 24 years. In addition to the ice production on the banks of West Greenland, sea ice produced further north in Baffin Bay was advected to the banks as shown by satellite tracked drifting buoys. Both the local sea ice production and the advected sea ice contributed significantly to sea temperatures and salinities measured during summer on the banks. No correlation between sea ice concentration and plankton abundance could be detected but the recruitment of the offshore cod (Gadus morhua) component in South Greenland was negatively correlated to the amount of sea ice in Baffin Bay.

Increasing abundance of bowhead whales in West Greenland

Heide-Jørgensen, M.P., K.L. Laidre, D. Borchers, F. Samara, and H. Stern, "Increasing abundance of bowhead whales in West Greenland," Biol. Lett., 3, 577-580, 2007.

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1 Aug 2007

In April 2006, a dedicated survey of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) was conducted on the former whaling ground in West Greenland to determine the current wintering population abundance. This effort included a double platform aerial survey design, satellite tracking of the movements of nine whales, and estimation of high-resolution surface time from 14 whales instrumented with time–depth recorders. Bowhead whales were estimated to spend an average of 24% (cv=0.03) of the time at or above 2 m depth, the maximum depth at which they can be seen on the trackline. This resulted in a fully corrected abundance estimate of 1229 (95% CI: 495–2939) bowhead whales when the availability factor was applied and sightings missed by observers were corrected. This surprisingly large population estimate is puzzling given that the change in abundance cannot be explained by a recent or rapid growth in population size. One possible explanation is that the population, which demonstrates high age and sex segregation, has recently attained a certain threshold size elsewhere, and a higher abundance of mature females appears on the winter and spring feeding ground in West Greenland. This in combination with the latest severe reduction in sea ice facilitating access to coastal areas might explain the surprising increase in bowhead whale abundance in West Greenland.

Springtime coupling between chlorophyll a, sea ice and sea surface temperature in Disko Bay, West Greenland

Heide-Jorgensen, M.P., K.L. Laidre, M.L. Logsdon, and T.G. Nielsen, "Springtime coupling between chlorophyll a, sea ice and sea surface temperature in Disko Bay, West Greenland," Prog. Oceanogr., 73, 79-95, doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2007.01.006, 2007.

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1 Apr 2007

Alterations in sea ice and primary production are expected to have cascading influences on the food web in high Arctic marine ecosystems. This study spanned four years and examined the spring phytoplankton production bloom in Disko Bay, West Greenland (69°N, 53°W) (using chlorophyll a concentrations as a proxy) under contrasting sea ice conditions in 2001 and 2003 (heavy sea ice) and 2002 and 2004 (light sea ice). Satellite-based observations of chlorophyll a, sea ice and sea surface temperature were used together with in situ depth profiles of chlorophyll a fluorescence collected at 24 sampling stations along the south coast of Disko Island (5–30 km offshore) in May 2003 and 2004. Chlorophyll a and sea surface temperatures were also obtained from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS: EOS-Terra and AQUA satellites) between March 2001 and July 2004. Daily SMMR/SSMI sea ice data were obtained in the same years. An empirical regional algorithm was developed to calibrate ratios of remotely sensed measurements of water leaving radiance with in situ chlorophyll a fluorescence. The optimal integration depth was 0–4 m, explaining between 70% and 91% of the variance. The spatial development of the phytoplankton bloom showed that the southwestern corner of the study area had the earliest and the largest spring phytoplankton bloom. The eastern part of Disko Bay, influenced by meltwater outflow from the glaciers, shows no signs of an early phytoplankton bloom and followed the general pattern of an accelerated bloom soon after the disappearance of sea ice. In all four years the coupling between phytoplankton and sea ice was bounded by average open water between 50% and 80%, likely due to the combined availability of light and stable open water. The daily incremental growth in both mean chlorophyll a density (chlorophyll a per volume water, μg l-1) and abundance (density of chlorophyll a extrapolated to ice free areas, tons) estimated by linear regression (chlorophyll a vs. day) between 1 April and 15 May was highest in 2002 and 2004 (light ice years) and lowest in 2001 and 2003 (heavy ice years). In years with late sea ice retreat the chlorophyll a attained only slightly lower densities than in years with early sea ice retreat. However, the abundance of chlorophyll a in light ice years was considerably larger than in heavy ice years, and there was an obvious effect of more open water for light-induced stimulation of primary production. This observation demonstrates the importance of estimating chlorophyll a abundance rather than density in sea ice covered areas. This study also presents the first regional calibration of MODIS chlorophyll a data for Arctic waters.

Winter abundance of bowhead whales, Balaena mysticetus, in Hudson Strait in March 1981

Koski, W.R., M.P. Heide-Jørgensen, and K.L. Laidre, "Winter abundance of bowhead whales, Balaena mysticetus, in Hudson Strait in March 1981," J. Cetacean Res. Manage., 8, 139-144., 2006.

1 Sep 2006

Foraging patterns and prey selection in an increasing and expanding sea otter population

Laidre, K.L., and R.J. Jameson, "Foraging patterns and prey selection in an increasing and expanding sea otter population," J. Mammol., 87, 788-807, 2006.

15 Jul 2006

Patterns of growth and body condition in sea otters from the Aleutian archipelago before and after the recent population decline

Laidre, K.L., J.A. Estes, M.T. Tinker, J. Bodkin, D. Monson, and K. Schneider, "Patterns of growth and body condition in sea otters from the Aleutian archipelago before and after the recent population decline," J. Animal Ecol., 75, 978-989, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2656.2006.01117.x, 2006.

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1 Jul 2006

Growth models for body mass and length were fitted to data collected from 1842 sea otters Enhydra lutris shot or live-captured throughout south-west Alaska between 1967 and 2004. Growth curves were constructed for each of two main year groups: 1967–71 when the population was at or near carrying capacity and 1992–97 when the population was in steep decline. Analyses of data collected from animals caught during 2004, when the population density was very low, were precluded by a small sample size and consequently only examined incidentally to the main growth curves.

Growth curves demonstrated a significant increase in body mass and body length at age in the 1990s. Asymptotic values of body mass were 12–18% higher in the 1990s than in the 1960s/70s, and asymptotic values for body length were 10–1% higher between the same periods. Data collected in 2004 suggest a continued increase in body size, with nearly all data points for mass and length falling significantly above the 1990s growth curves.

In addition to larger asymptotic values for mass and length, the rate of growth towards asymptotic values was more rapid in the 1990s than in the 1960s/70s: sea otters reached 95% of asymptotic body mass and body length 1–2 years earlier in the 1990s.

Body condition (as measured by the log mass/log length ratio) was significantly greater in males than in females. There was also an increasing trend from the 1960s/70s through 2004 despite much year-to-year variation.

Population age structures differed significantly between the 1960s/70s and the 1990s with the latter distribution skewed toward younger age classes (indicating an altered lx function) suggesting almost complete relaxation of age-dependent mortality patterns (i.e. those typical of food-limited populations).

This study spanned a period of time over which the population status of sea otters in the Aleutian archipelago declined precipitously from levels at or near equilibrium densities at some islands in the 1960s/70s to < 5% of estimated carrying capacity by the late 1990s. The results of this study indicate an improved overall health of sea otters over the period of decline and suggest that limited nutritional resources were not the cause of the observed reduced population abundance. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that the decline was caused by increased killer whale predation.

Trends in sea ice cover within habitats used by bowhead whales in the western Arctic

Moore, S.E., and K.L. Laidre, "Trends in sea ice cover within habitats used by bowhead whales in the western Arctic," Ecolog. Appl., 16, 932-944, 2006.

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1 Jun 2006

We examined trends in sea ice cover between 1979 and 2002 in four months (March, June, September, and November) for four large (approximately 100,000 km2) and 12 small (approximately 10,000 km2) regions of the western Arctic in habitats used by bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus). Variation in open water with year was significant in all months except March, but interactions between region and year were not. Open water increased in both large and small regions, but trends were weak with least-squares regression accounting for < or =34% of the total variation. In large regions, positive trends in open water were strongest in September. Linear fits were poor, however, even in the East Siberian, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas, where basin-scale analyses have emphasized dramatic sea ice loss. Small regions also showed weak positive trends in open water and strong interannual variability.

Open water increased consistently in five small regions where bowhead whales have been observed feeding or where oceanographic models predict prey entrainment, including: (1) June, along the northern Chukotka coast, near Wrangel Island, and along the Beaufort slope; (2) September, near Wrangel Island, the Barrow Arc, and the Chukchi Borderland; and (3) November, along the Barrow Arc. Conversely, there was very little consistent change in sea ice cover in four small regions considered winter refugia for bowhead whales in the northern Bering Sea, nor in two small regions that include the primary springtime migration corridor in the Chukchi Sea. The effects of sea ice cover on bowhead whale prey availability are unknown but can be modeled via production and advection pathways. Our conceptual model suggests that reductions in sea ice cover will increase prey availability along both pathways for this population. This analysis elucidates the variability inherent in the western Arctic marine ecosystem at scales relevant to bowhead whales and contrasts basin-scale depictions of extreme sea ice retreats, thinning, and wind-driven movements.

Greenland's Winter Whales: The Beluga, the Narwhal and the Bowhead Whale

Heide-Jorgensen, M.P., and K.L. Laidre, "Greenland's Winter Whales: The Beluga, the Narwhal and the Bowhead Whale," Ilinniusiorfik Undervisningsmiddelforlag, Nuuk, Greenland, 2006, 128 pp.

15 Jan 2006

Dissolving stock discreteness with satellite tracking: Bowhead whales in Baffin Bay

Heide-Jorgensen, M.P., K.L. Laidre, M.V. Jensen, L. Dueck, and L.D. Postma, "Dissolving stock discreteness with satellite tracking: Bowhead whales in Baffin Bay," Mar. Mammal Sci., 22, 34-45, doi: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2006.00004.x, 2006.

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10 Jan 2006

Nine bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) were instrumented with satellite transmitters in West Greenland in May 2002 and 2003. Transmitters were either encased in steel cans or imbedded in floats attached to wires. Transmitters mounted in steel cans had a high initial failure rate, yet those that were successful provided tracking durations up to seven months. Float tags had a low initial failure rate and initially provided large numbers of positions; however, they had deployment durations of only 2–33 d. All tracked whales departed from West Greenland and headed northwest towards Lancaster Sound in the end of May. Three tags with long tracking durations (197–217 d) recorded movements of whales (1 male, 2 females) into December in 2002 and 2003. All of these individuals remained within the Canadian High Arctic or along the east coast of Baffin Island in summer and early fall. By the end of October, all three whales moved rapidly south along the east coast of Baffin Island and entered Hudson Strait, an apparent wintering ground for the population. One of the whales did not visit Isabella Bay on east Baffin Island, the locality used for abundance estimation from photographic reidentification of individuals. The movements of whales tagged in this study raise critical questions about the assumed stock discreteness of bowhead whales in Foxe Basin, Hudson Strait, and Davis Strait and indicate current estimates of abundance are negatively biased.

In The News

Arctic 101: UW degree to prep students for a melting world

The Seattle Times, Sandi Doughton

The University of Washington is launching a new initiative to boost research in polar regions and prepare students for a world where melting ice is opening new opportunities — and posing new threats.

5 Jan 2014

Scientists review the ecological effects of sea ice loss

UW News and Information, Hannah Hickey

The Arctic Ocean has more open water each summer, a trend most scientists predict will continue in coming years. September 2012 set the record for the most open water since satellite observations began.

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1 Aug 2013

A University of Washington researcher is co-author on a review paper published this week (Aug. 2) in the journal Science looking at the ecological consequences of sea ice decline.

Led by corresponding author Eric Post, a biologist at Pennsylvania State University, the international team looked at effects on animals ranging from microorganisms to polar bears. As well as obvious changes for organisms that live in or on the ice, there also are trickle-down effects for food webs, animal behavior, species ranges, interbreeding and disease dynamics.

"We often wonder what the sea ice loss impact will be on weather, and probably as important or more is its influence on ecosystems," said co-author Cecilia Bitz, a UW associate professor of atmospheric sciences.

Bitz's research uses computer models to predict changes in sea ice. She recently published a study showing that declining sea ice is likely to further threaten ringed seals, which use snow-covered ice floes to build caves for their young.

Last summer there was the least summer sea ice in 1,500 years, almost 40 percent less than when recorded observations began in 1979.

"The loss of 40 percent may have an even greater impact because it%u2019s in the location that%u2019s most important for many ecosystems," Bitz said. "The coastal areas are some of the most biologically rich regions in the oceans because of the runoff from the land, which provides the nutrients to support biological productivity, and because polar bears and other species tend to move between land, water and ice."

What's more, microorganisms living in and below sea ice account for more than half the biological productivity in the Arctic Ocean, the authors write. While the volume of sea ice is small compared to the entire Arctic Ocean, ice microbes are plentiful because the ice absorbs most of the sunlight, Bitz said.

"The paper is an excellent synthesis of the ecological effects of sea ice decline in the Arctic, summarizing a number of recent observations and studies that all point to large changes in the marine and terrestrial systems," commented Kristin Laidre, a polar scientist at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory who was not involved in the study. "The authors also point out important future scientific and management challenges that are coupled to increased human use of the Arctic."

Laidre's research focuses on Arctic marine mammals, including narwhals and polar bears.

"We are seeing changes in behavior, body condition and survival rates in several species," Laidre said, "and many of these changes are linked to the loss of sea ice."

The research was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation. Other co-authors of the study are Jeffrey Kerby at Penn State; Uma Bhatt and Donald Walker at the University of Alaska; Jedediah Brodie at the University of British Columbia; Tara Fulton at the University of California, Santa Cruz; Mark Hebblewhite at the University of Montana; Susan Kutz at the University of Calgary; and Ian Stirling at the University of Alberta.

Scientists look to marine mammals to shed light on Arctic ice loss

Minnesota Public Radio, Kerri Miller

University of Washington marine mammal ecologist Kristin Laidre and Kate Stafford, principal oceanographer at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Washington University, are using their studies of Arctic mammals to unlock some of the mysteries of ice loss. Kerri Miller held a conversation with the two scientists at the World Science Festival.

4 Jun 2013

More News Items

Bringing Art to Narwhal Research in the Arctic

KUOW Radio, Ashley Ahearn

Two Seattle-based adventurers — one a scientist, the other an artist — are on an expedition to study and document narwhals in Arctic waters off the west coast of Greenland.

9 Apr 2013

Tusks of whimsical-looking whales lead to charges for 2 in Maine courtroom

The New York Times, Jess Bidgood

Two Americans on Friday pleaded not guilty to charges that they participated in a decade-long international smuggling operation that brought narwhal tusks into the United States. Kristin Laidre, oceanographer with the Applied Physics Lab, is quoted.

11 Jan 2013

Narwhals document continued warming of Baffin Bay

EOS, Trans. AGU, p.80

In the late summers of 2005, 2006, and 2007, 14 narwhals were captured and instrumented with satellite-linked time- depth-temperature recorders. Because these instruments lasted for up to 7 months before they fell off the narwhals, an unprecedented record of wintertime data was collected. These data show not only that deep waters are warmer in summer compared to decades ago but also that they maintain warmer temperatures throughout the year.

1 Mar 2011

Narwhals transmit climate data from Arctic seas

Nature News, Lucas Laursen

Marine mammals armed with thermometers return temperature readings from icy Baffin Bay.

28 Oct 2010

Narwhals take Greenland's temperature

USA Today, Dan Vergano

A team led by Kristin Laidre of the Polar Science Center in the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory report results from 14 narwhals equipped with thermometers that were in Baffin Bay and the northern Davis Strait during winters from 2005 to 2007. Overall, the results show continued warming in these waters.

27 Oct 2010

Chasing after the elusive narwhal

National Public Radio, Nell Greenfieldboyce

Thousands of narwhals spend their summers in the fjord Inglefield Bredning, and Kristin Laidre, an oceanographer at the University of Washington, has been coming here for the past eight years. Again and again, she's tried to catch a narwhal by setting up giant nets.

18 Aug 2009

In search of the mysterious narwhal

Smithsonian Magazine, Abigail Tucker

Oceanographer Kristin Laidre is perhaps America's leading expert on narwhals, the shy and retiring cetaceans with the "unicorn horn"%u2014actually a giant tooth%u2014found only in the Greenlandic and Canadian Arctic.

1 May 2009

Tracking the narwhal

BBC

Kristin Laidre led a research team during summer 2008 to the Greenland coast. They are interested in climate change and how reduced ice and warmer waters affect Narwhals.

8 Sep 2008

UW becomes member of University of the Arctic

University Week, Catherine O

Growing international interest in the Arctic led the UW in June to become a member of the University of the Arctic. Polar Science Center researchers Harry Stern and Kristin Laidre are charter participants.

24 Jul 2008

Narwhals more at risk to Arctic warming than polar bears

USA Today, Seth Borenstein

The polar bear has become an icon of global warming vulnerability, but a new study found an Arctic mammal that may be even more at risk to climate change: the narwhal.

25 Apr 2008

Narwhals help scientists track global warming

ABC Good Morning America

Narwhals thrive in ice-chocked Arctic waters. Kristin Laidre of the Applied Physics Laboratory has tagged narwhals with satellite transmitters that track the animals' movements and measure water temperatures in a region where rapid warming appears to be taking place.

5 Feb 2008

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