Indications of habitat use patterns among small cetaceans in the central North Pacific based on fisheries observer data

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Richard C. Ferrero
Roderick C. Hobbs
Glenn R. VanBlaricom


Biological specimens and environmental data collected by observers monitoring Japanese squid driftnet fishing operations during the summers of 1990 and 1991 in the central North Pacific (37°N-46°N, and 170°E-150°W) were used to explore habitat use patterns among three small cetacean species common to that area: the Dall’s porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli), Pacific white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens) and northern right whale dolphin (Lissodelphis borealis). Sex and maturity status were determined for 805 northern right whale dolphins, 421 Pacific white-sided dolphins and 206 Dall’s porpoises incidentally taken in 800 observed gillnet sets, allowing sub-taxon comparisons of habitat use patterns. Habitat variables were based on observer records of sea surface temperature (SST), wind velocity and direction, and swell height. Current velocity and direction and SST gradients were also derived. Canonical Correspondence Analysis (CCA) was used to relate the species categories to the habitat conditions recorded for the gillnet operations in which entanglements occurred. The samples collected from the southern, middle and northern latitudes within the overall study area were examined separately to account for northward movement of the fishing fleets across the summer months. SST was the most dominant and consistent feature; northern right whale dolphins occupied the warmest waters, Dall’s porpoises the coldest; Pacific white-sided dolphins were found in-between, but more similar to the latter. Wind velocity and swell height also reflected potentially important habitat features. Young-of-the-year northern right whale dolphin showed a preference for the warmest waters observed in the middle latitude band, coincident with that species summer calving mode.

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