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Changes in spatial and temporal distribution and vocal behavior of Blainville's beaked whales (Mesoplodon densirostris) during multiship exercises with mid-frequency sonar

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Abstract

The number and distribution of vocalizing groups of Blainville's beaked whales (Mesoplodon densirostris) were analyzed before, during, and after multiship mid-frequency active sonar operations at the US Navy's Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) in the Bahamas. Groups of foraging animals were isolated by detecting their echolocation clicks using an array of bottom-mounted hydrophones. Two data sets were evaluated consisting of 115 and 240 h of acoustic data in May 2007 and 2008, respectively. Vocal activity was observed to decline during active sonar exercises and increase upon cessation of sonar transmissions in both data sets. Vocal activity did not recover to preexposure levels in the postexposure time period in 2007 nor in the initial postexposure period in the 2008 data set. Clicks detected during sonar operations were generally found to be on the periphery of the hydrophone field and vocal durations declined for those groups that remained on the range in that time period. Receive levels were calculated for several vocal groups of whales and indicated that animals continued to forage when exposed to sonar at levels as high as 157 dB re: μPa.

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