Will harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) habituate to pingers?

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Tara M. Cox
Andrew J. Read
Andrew Solow
Nick Tregenza


Large bycatches of harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) occur in gillnet fisheries throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Several mitigation measures, including acoustic deterrent devices or ‘pingers’, have been used in efforts to reduce this bycatch. The potential exists for harbour porpoises to habituate to pingers, thus reducing their effectiveness over time. A field experiment was conducted to test the hypothesis that porpoises habituate to the sound produced by pingers. Porpoise echolocation and movements were monitored around a mooring equipped with a pinger (Dukane NetMark™ 1000) for three months in summer 1998 in the Bay of Fundy. Using a mean-shift model it was estimated that porpoises were initially displaced 208m from the pinger (p = 0.019), but this displacement diminished by 50% within four days (p = 0.019). Using a probability model it was demonstrated that the probability of porpoises within 125m of the pinger initially decreased when the pinger was turned on, but then increased to equal the control in 10-11 days. Echolocation rate (p < 0.001) and occurrence (p < 0.001) were significantly reduced in the vicinity of the pinger. These results indicate that porpoises habituated to the Dukane NetMark™ 1000 pinger and are not alerted to echolocate in the presence of nets by pingers.

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