During October 2015, WCS’s team, including Dr. Ricardo Antunes, boat captain Adem Boeckman and his crew, were back in the Bering Sea for our third marine mammal acoustic monitoring expedition. We started this project using hunters to deploy gear, but have used a fishing boat more recently due to the safety concerns of using heavy anchors offshore. However, for 2016 we are hoping to return to working closely with hunters as we seek to partner with them to better understand which animals are calling and being recorded.
It was challenging at this time of year. The fall weather conditions were not as favorable as during our previous trip in June. A string of low-pressure systems came through from the west and forced us to stay in the harbor for nearly 4 weeks. While ashore, Antunes took the opportunity to speak to local students from Anvil City Science Academy in Nome about the sounds made by Arctic marine mammals and what he has learned from studying them.
The team’s perseverance paid off. We finally saw good weather on the horizon, and headed to St. Lawrence Island. During our first trip of the season, we approached the island from the northeast, rounded it first by the southeast cape, and followed across Powooliak Bay on the south coast. Along the way, we pulled up the recorders, recovered the memory cards, and replaced the batteries in the instruments we had deployed in June. As in previous years, these recorders will remain in the water collecting data on whales and other marine mammals throughout the winter. Similar to the previous trips we have found grey whales off the northwest cape, close to the village of Gambell. Weather conditions deteriorated after we picked up our fourth recorder off Gambell, and we were forced to steam back to Nome over heavy, rolling seas.
A few days later, taking advantage of another good weather window, we headed into the Bering Strait. We are expanding our monitoring beyond St. Lawrence Island with our first trip into this area. We steamed out of Nome heading northwest in the direction of King Island. We dropped one recorder five nautical miles west of the island in a location inside a proposed shipping route. We saw several grey whales in this area, which appeared to be feeding. We then continued north, along the shipping lane, until the Bering Strait, between Little Diomede island and Cape Prince of Wales on the Alaska coast. Two additional recorders went into the water in this location, and we headed back to Nome.
This was our first expedition funded by the North Pacific Research Board. With their support we can continue to collect data on the presence of marine mammals and the noise levels they are exposed to from passing ships and industrial activities. We will be assessing how the increase in ventures in this area will impact the lives of wildlife in the Arctic.