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PLoS One. 2014 Sep 17;9(9):e106998. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0106998. eCollection 2014.

Environmental predictors of ice seal presence in the Bering Sea.

Author information

1
Applied Research Laboratory, The Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pennsylvania, United States of America.

Abstract

Ice seals overwintering in the Bering Sea are challenged with foraging, finding mates, and maintaining breathing holes in a dark and ice covered environment. Due to the difficulty of studying these species in their natural environment, very little is known about how the seals navigate under ice. Here we identify specific environmental parameters, including components of the ambient background sound, that are predictive of ice seal presence in the Bering Sea. Multi-year mooring deployments provided synoptic time series of acoustic and oceanographic parameters from which environmental parameters predictive of species presence were identified through a series of mixed models. Ice cover and 10 kHz sound level were significant predictors of seal presence, with 40 kHz sound and prey presence (combined with ice cover) as potential predictors as well. Ice seal presence showed a strong positive correlation with ice cover and a negative association with 10 kHz environmental sound. On average, there was a 20-30 dB difference between sound levels during solid ice conditions compared to open water or melting conditions, providing a salient acoustic gradient between open water and solid ice conditions by which ice seals could orient. By constantly assessing the acoustic environment associated with the seasonal ice movement in the Bering Sea, it is possible that ice seals could utilize aspects of the soundscape to gauge their safe distance to open water or the ice edge by orienting in the direction of higher sound levels indicative of open water, especially in the frequency range above 1 kHz. In rapidly changing Arctic and sub-Arctic environments, the seasonal ice conditions and soundscapes are likely to change which may impact the ability of animals using ice presence and cues to successfully function during the winter breeding season.

PMID:
25229453
PMCID:
PMC4167550
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0106998
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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