Acoustic Studies of the Effects of Environmental Stresses on Marine Mammals in Large Ocean Basins
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Effects of environmental stresses on deep-diving marine mammal populations have not been studied systematically. Long-term regional passive acoustic monitoring of phonating marine mammals opens opportunities for such studies. This paper presents a unique multi-year study conducted by the Littoral Acoustic Demonstration Center (LADC) in the Northern Gulf of Mexico to understand short-term and long-term effects of anthropogenic stresses on resident populations of endangered sperm and elusive beaked whales. Both species spend many hours each day in deep dives which last about one hour each, so any visual observations for population estimates and behavioral responses are very limited. However, much more cost-efficient acoustic recordings of the phonations during dives on bottom-mounted hydrophones are not skewed by weather conditions or daylight requirements. Broadband passive acoustic data were collected by LADC in 2007 and 2010 at three ranges, 15, 40, and 80 km away from the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill site. Pre-spill and post-spill data processing and comparison allow observing responses of both species to local short–term environmental condition changes and long-term responses to the spill. The short-term effects are studied by correlating daily activity cycles with anthropogenic noise curve daily and weekly cycles at different sites. The strong correlation between the decrease in overall daily activity and the increase in anthropogenic noise level associated with seismic exploration signals can be seen. After streaming raw acoustic data through detection algorithms and detailed assessment of false detection rates, the temporal densities of acoustic phonations are passed into statistical algorithms for resident population estimations. The statistically significant results have shown different regional abundance trends, associated with long-term responses to environmental stresses, for these two species.