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Donna Hauser

Research Associate





Department Affiliation

Polar Science Center


2000-present and while at APL-UW

Decadal shifts in autumn migration timing by Pacific Arctic beluga whales are related to delayed annual sea ice formation

Hauser, D.D.W., K.L. Laidre, K.M. Stafford, H.L. Stern, R.S. Suydam, and P.R. Richard, "Decadal shifts in autumn migration timing by Pacific Arctic beluga whales are related to delayed annual sea ice formation," Global Clim. Change, 23, 2206-2217, doi:10.111/gcb.13564, 2017.

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1 Jun 2017

Migrations are often influenced by seasonal environmental gradients that are increasingly being altered by climate change. The consequences of rapid changes in Arctic sea ice have the potential to affect migrations of a number of marine species whose timing is temporally matched to seasonal sea ice cover. This topic has not been investigated for Pacific Arctic beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) that follow matrilineally maintained autumn migrations in the waters around Alaska and Russia. For the sympatric Eastern Chukchi Sea ('Chukchi') and Eastern Beaufort Sea ('Beaufort') beluga populations, we examined changes in autumn migration timing as related to delayed regional sea ice freeze-up since the 1990s, using two independent data sources (satellite telemetry data and passive acoustics) for both populations. We compared dates of migration between 'early' (1993–2002) and 'late' (2004–2012) tagging periods. During the late tagging period, Chukchi belugas had significantly delayed migrations (by 2 to >4 weeks, depending on location) from the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. Spatial analyses also revealed that departure from Beaufort Sea foraging regions by Chukchi whales was postponed in the late period. Chukchi beluga autumn migration timing occurred significantly later as regional sea ice freeze-up timing became later in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and Bering seas. In contrast, Beaufort belugas did not shift migration timing between periods, nor was migration timing related to freeze-up timing, other than for southward migration at the Bering Strait. Passive acoustic data from 2008 to 2014 provided independent and supplementary support for delayed migration from the Beaufort Sea (4 day yr) by Chukchi belugas. Here, we report the first phenological study examining beluga whale migrations within the context of their rapidly transforming Pacific Arctic ecosystem, suggesting flexible responses that may enable their persistence yet also complicate predictions of how belugas may fare in the future.

Habitat selection by two beluga whale populations in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas

Hauser, D.D.W., K.L. Laidre, H.L. Stern, S.E. Moore, R.S. Suydam, and P.R. Richard, "Habitat selection by two beluga whale populations in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas," Plos One, 12, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0172755, 2017.

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24 Feb 2017

There has been extensive sea ice loss in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas where two beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) populations occur between July–November. Our goal was to develop population-specific beluga habitat selection models that quantify relative use of sea ice and bathymetric features related to oceanographic processes, which can provide context to the importance of changing sea ice conditions. We established habitat selection models that incorporated daily sea ice measures (sea ice concentration, proximity to ice edge and dense ice) and bathymetric features (slope, depth, proximity to the continental slope, Barrow Canyon, and shore) to establish quantitative estimates of habitat use for the Eastern Chukchi Sea ('Chukchi') and Eastern Beaufort Sea ('Beaufort') populations. We applied 'used v. available' resource selection functions to locations of 65 whales tagged from 1993–2012, revealing large variations in seasonal habitat selection that were distinct between sex and population groups. Chukchi whales of both sexes were predicted to use areas in close proximity to Barrow Canyon (typically <200 km) as well as the continental slope in summer, although deeper water and denser ice were stronger predictors for males than females. Habitat selection differed more between sexes for Beaufort belugas. Beaufort males selected higher ice concentrations (≥40%) than females (0–40%) in July–August. Proximity to shore (<200 km) strongly predicted summer habitat of Beaufort females, while distance to the ice edge was important for male habitat selection, especially during westward migration in September. Overall, our results indicate that sea ice variables were rarely the primary drivers of beluga summer-fall habitat selection. While diminished sea ice may indirectly affect belugas through changes in the ecosystem, associations with bathymetric features that affect prey availability seemed key to habitat selection during summer and fall. These results provide a benchmark by which to assess future changes in beluga habitat use of the Pacific Arctic.

Beluga whales in the western Beaufort Sea: Current state of knowledge on timing, distribution, habitat use and environmental drivers

Stafford, K.M., M.C. Ferguson, D.D.W.Hauser, S.R. Okkonen, C.L. Berchok, J.J. Citat, J.T. Clarke, E.C. Garland, J. Jones, and R.S. Suydam, "Beluga whales in the western Beaufort Sea: Current state of knowledge on timing, distribution, habitat use and environmental drivers," Deep Sea Res. II, EOR, doi:10.1016/j.dsr2.2016.11.017, 2016.

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2 Dec 2016

The seasonal and geographic patterns in the distribution, residency, and density of two populations (Chukchi and Beaufort) of beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) were examined using data from aerial surveys, passive acoustic recordings, and satellite telemetry to better understand this arctic species in the oceanographically complex and changing western Beaufort Sea. An aerial survey data-based model of beluga density highlights the Beaufort Sea slope as important habitat for belugas, with westerly regions becoming more important as summer progresses into fall. The Barrow Canyon region always had the highest relative densities of belugas from July–October. Passive acoustic data showed that beluga whales occupied the Beaufort slope and Beaufort Sea from early April until early November and passed each hydrophone location in three broad pulses during this time. These pulses likely represent the migrations of the two beluga populations: the first pulse in spring being from Beaufort animals, the second spring pulse Chukchi belugas, with the third, fall pulse a combination of both populations. Core-use and home range analyses of satellite-tagged belugas showed similar use of habitats as the aerial survey data, but also showed that it is predominantly the Chukchi population of belugas that uses the western Beaufort, with the exception of September when both populations overlap. Finally, an examination of these beluga datasets in the context of wind-driven changes in the local currents and water masses suggests that belugas are highly capable of adapting to oceanographic changes that may drive the distribution of their prey.

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Use of glacial fronts by narwhals (Monodon monoceros) in West Greenland

Laidre, K.L., T. Moon, D.D.W. Hauser, R. McGovern, M.P. Heide-Jørgensen, R. Dietz, and B. Hudson, "Use of glacial fronts by narwhals (Monodon monoceros) in West Greenland," Proc. R. Soc. Biol. Lett., 12, doi:10.1098/rsbl.2016.0457, 2016.

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26 Oct 2016

Glacial fronts are important summer habitat for narwhals (Monodon monoceros); however, no studies have quantified which glacial properties attract whales. We investigated the importance of glacial habitats using telemetry data from n = 15 whales tagged in September of 1993, 1994, 2006 and 2007 in Melville Bay, West Greenland. For 41 marine-terminating glaciers, we estimated (i) narwhal presence/absence, (ii) number of 24 h periods spent at glaciers and (iii) the fraction of narwhals that visited each glacier (at 5, 7 and 10 km) in autumn. We also compiled data on glacier width, ice thickness, ice velocity, front advance/retreat, area and extent of iceberg discharge, bathymetry, subglacial freshwater run-off and sediment flux. Narwhal use of glacial habitats expanded in the 2000s probably due to reduced summer fast ice and later autumn freeze-up. Using a generalized multivariate framework, glacier ice front thickness (vertical height in the water column) was a significant covariate in all models. A negative relationship with glacier velocity was included in several models and glacier front width was a significant predictor in the 2000s. Results suggest narwhals prefer glaciers with potential for higher ambient freshwater melt over glaciers with silt-laden discharge. This may represent a preference for summer freshwater habitat, similar to other Arctic monodontids.

Population-specific home ranges and migration timing of Pacific Arctic beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas)

Hauser, D.D.W., K.L. Laidre, R.S. Suydam, and P.R. Richard, "Population-specific home ranges and migration timing of Pacific Arctic beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas)," Polar Biol., 8, 1171-1183, doi:10.1007/s00300-014-1510-1, 2014.

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1 Apr 2014

Two populations of beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas), the Eastern Beaufort Sea (BS) and Eastern Chukchi Sea (ECS), make extensive seasonal migrations into the Pacific Arctic. However, the extent to which these populations overlap in time and space is not known. We quantified distribution and migration patterns for BS and ECS belugas using daily locations from whales tracked with satellite-linked transmitters. Home ranges and core areas in summer (July and August) and in each month (July–November), daily displacement, dispersal from core areas, and autumn migration timing were estimated. Distinct summer and fall distribution patterns and staggered autumn migration timing were identified for BS and ECS whales. Summer home ranges for each population had less than 10% overlap. Monthly home ranges were also relatively distinct between populations except in September (up to 88% home range overlap). A distinct east–west shift in focal area use occurred in September that persisted into October, with the two populations essentially switching longitudinal positions. Highest daily displacements occurred during the migratory period in September for BS whales and October for ECS whales, further indicating westward fall migration was offset between populations. Sexual segregation of males and females within a population also varied monthly. Autumn migration timing as well as differences in spatial and temporal segregation between BS and ECS beluga populations may be a result of maternally driven philopatry and population-specific adaptations to dynamically available resources. Our results contribute to the management of these populations by identifying seasonal area use and differences in migration patterns.

Acoustics Air-Sea Interaction & Remote Sensing Center for Environmental & Information Systems Center for Industrial & Medical Ultrasound Electronic & Photonic Systems Ocean Engineering Ocean Physics Polar Science Center