Distribution and migrations of cetaceans in the Russian Arctic according to observations from aerial ice reconnaissance
Keywords:belugas, Delphinapterus leucas, distribution, migration, sea-ice, baleen whales, narwhal, Monodon monoceros
This paper is based on 748 observations of belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) and 382 observations of baleen whales in the Russian Arctic, the majority of the data provided by aerial reconnaissance of sea ice (ARSI). Although the data are not suitable for the estimation of the number and density of the animals, they represent a multi-year (1958-1995) range of observations to update our knowledge on the seasonal distribution and migrations of the species. Belugas inhabit not only shelf waters but also the zone of the shelf slope and the abyssal zone of the Arctic Ocean, where the animals appear mostly in summer. In winter belugas were observed only in the Barents Sea. In June-August, the frequency of beluga observations was highest in the Laptev Sea, which has previously been believed to have considerably lower numbers of beluga than the Kara and Barents seas. Patterns of seasonal distribution and ice cover suggest the existence of a natural border preventing or reducing population exchange between belugas inhabiting the western and eastern parts of the Russian Arctic. A brief review of available data on distribution of the narwhal (Monodon monoceros) in the Russian Arctic is also given. Two species of baleen whales were frequently seen in the Russian Arctic: the bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus), and the grey whale (Eschrichtius robustus). The majority of such observations were made in the southeastern part of the East-Siberian Sea and the southern part of the Chukchi Sea. In the Bering Sea baleen whales were usually seen near the Chukotka Peninsula, in Anadyr Bay and southeast of it. Whales were usually seen in ice-free water: observations of whales among rarefied ice and near the ice edge were rare. There were considerable annual and seasonal variations in distribution and migrations of baleen whales in the region, probably caused mainly by the dynamics of ice conditions.
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