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Donna Hauser

Marine Biologist



Department Affiliation

Polar Science Center


2000-present and while at APL-UW

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.

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.

More Publications

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