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Interactions among Behavioral Responses of Baleen Whales to Acoustic Stimuli, Oceanographic Features, and Prey Availability

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Technical Report

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Southall Environmental Associates, Inc Aptos United States

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The long term goals of this collaborative research effort, which is coordinated with other ONR and Navy-funded biological research projects, are two-fold. Our first objective is to determine how the distribution, abundance, and behavior of prey affects the baseline foraging behavior and ecology of baleen whales off the California coast. The basic measurements of foraging ecology and behavior are also providing a critical means of interpreting potential responses buy describing the energetic consequences of any observed changes in behavior. Baleen whales employ a variety of feeding strategies that relate to the behavior of their prey and understanding these is paramount to being able to assess changes in their feeding ecology arising from a host of natural and human factors. Second, we are using these findings directly in quantifying how prey affects whale behavior and ultimately interpretation of response to anthropogenic sound. Given the broader goals of investigating potential behavioral responses of whales to mid-frequency military sonar, the ability to more completely describe and quantify behavioral responses of baleen whales to controlled exposure experiments while including the effects of prey provides a novel and powerful insight into interpreting responses to sound and controlling for environmental factors. In order to determine whether and how behavioral changes occurring in baleen whales during controlled exposure experiments are related to sound in their environment, we are applying these integrated methods to better understand and quantify whether and how changes in their prey environment account for the behavioral change as well.

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