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Keywords:

  • belukha whales;
  • Delphinapterus leucas;
  • Alaska;
  • radiotagging;
  • movements;
  • respiration;
  • behavior

Abstract

Research was conducted in Bristol Bay, Alaska, to determine the applicability of radiotagging to studies of behavior, distribution and movements of belukha whales. Backpack-style VHF transmitters were attached to two belukhas by pinning through the dorsal ridge. Both packages were shed after about 2 wk due to migration of the pin through the tissue. Movements of radio-tagged whales were essentially local within Kvichak Bay. Three basic respiration patterns were identified: surfacings that were grouped into breathing periods separated by longer dives; surfacings that did not occur during restricted breathing periods; and long-to-very-long surfacings separated by short-to-very-short dives. These patterns were interpreted as representing traveling, feeding and feeding or resting in very shallow water. Surface and dive interval data were used to calculate a correction factor of 2.75, which could then be applied to aerial survey counts to estimate the total number of belukha whales in the study area. Modifications to radio packages are necessary in order to increase retention time.