Skull Shape and Morphometry of ~ 1800-Year-Old Alaskan Polar Bear Skull: Evidence for a New Polar Bear Subspecies? Raphaela Stimmelmayr

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Arctic – Mammals (poster)

Skull Shape and Morphometry of ~ 1800-Year-Old Alaskan Polar Bear

Skull: Evidence for a New Polar Bear Subspecies?
Raphaela Stimmelmayr

North Slope Borough,

Aaron Morris

North Slope Borough,

Billy Adams

North Slope Borough,

Anne Jensen

North Slope Borough,

The evolutionary history of the polar bear is not well known and fossil records of the

polar bear are scarce. Very few specimens have been found in North America. The

general scarcity is attributed to polar bears “for the most part live and die on the pack

ice, making their preservation in terrestrial sediments exceptional”. In 2014, a well preserved

skull of a polar bear (Ursus maritimus Phipps, 1774) was discovered after a

cave in and wash out at Walakpa, Alaska. Carbon dating places the skull at ~ 1850 years

BP (before present). This is to our knowledge the oldest complete polar bear skull

remains ever discovered in Alaska. Genetic sexing is pending but we speculate the skull

is from a fully-grown male based on well-known sexual dimorphism in polar bears. Our

findings on skull morphometrics and comparative skull shape analysis suggest marked

differences between this skull and modern day and last century SBS and Chukchi polar

bear skull specimens. Our specimen is among the largest polar bear skulls ever reported.

Briefly, the skull is overall slender and it differs in height of the sagital crest, nasal width,

breadth at canines, breadth of palatine, length of the maxilla, the palatine and sphenoid

bone to name a few of the differences. Inuvialuit TEK discusses differences in polar bear

types namely “stubby bears versus Weasel bears”. The latter are rarely encountered and

characterized by great size > 11 ‘ and slender built of head and neck. Evidence for

geographic variations in polar bears skull size has been put forth by Manning (1969) for

circumpolar stocks and subsequently by Wilson (1974) for Alaskan stocks, but discussion

on subspecies recognition of polar bear stocks remains an open discussion. Phylogenetic

DNA analysis of the Alaskan specimen is needed to further clarify the relationship to

modern day polar bears.

Arctic – Mammals (poster)

Cryptorchidism and Associated Testicular Cancer in an Adult Male Spotted Seal: A Case Report
Hannah Braden

Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine,

Raphaela Stimmelmayr

North Slope Borough,

Andrea Rios Gonzalez

Tufts University Conservation Medicine Masters Program,

The incidence of neoplasia in marine mammals continues to be low, but as previously

reviewed by Smith and Newman (2006) “the literature documenting marine mammal

neoplasia is expanding gradually”. Among the pinnipeds, case reports about Arctic ice

seals are scarce, with only one case of an adenocarcinoma being reported in a ringed

seal (Phoca hispida). We report the first case of a unilateral testicular cancer in a

cryptorchid adult male spotted seal (Phoca largha). Briefly, in 2015, the animal was

found freshly dead at Peard Bay, Alaska (70°50′43″N 158°48′39″W.). As part of our

Arctic Marine Mammal Stranding Response efforts, the seal carcass was brought back to

Barrow for post-mortem examination. The animal was in excellent body condition and

had completed molt. During necropsy the right greatly enlarged testicle was located in

the abdominal cavity. Associated retroperitoneal lymph nodes and intra-thoracic lymph

nodes were enlarged. In humans, cryptorchidism is an established risk factor for the

development of testicular germ cell tumors (TGCT). We will present an overview of gross

and histopathological findings of this unique case report.

Arctic – Seabirds

Assessing Hydrocarbon Sensitivity and Measuring Current CYP1A Activity in Arctic Marine Birds and Waterfowl
Ann Riddle

University of Alaska Fairbanks,

Tuula Hollmen

University of Alaska Fairbanks,

Robert Suydam

North Slope Borough,

Robert Sarren

North Slope Borough,

Raphaela Stimmelmayr

North Slope Borough,

With prospects of development of oil and gas resources and commercial shipping in the

Chukchi and Beaufort seas, establishing reference data and assessing sensitivity of Arctic

wildlife to hydrocarbon exposure will provide essential information needed for

management and conservation for species potentially impacted by an oil spill. Targeting

a broad selection of Arctic marine birds and waterfowl, we used species-specific cell

culture to assess hydrocarbon sensitivity by measuring liver cytochrome P450 (CYP1A).

We have established reference CYP1A enzyme responses for liver cell lines in ten Arctic

marine bird species and a control bird species (mallard, Anas platyrhunchos) by exposing

cells for 24 hours to positive control reference reagents (e.g. the hydrocarbon

chrysene). We also exposed cell lines from five Arctic marine bird species and mallard

control to various amounts of Alaska North Slope crude oil to determine CYP1A activity

in a compound mixture. Results show differences in species response to control

reagents and crude oil. To measure levels of current CYP1A activity in Arctic birds we

validated field protocols for collecting liver samples from three bird species of

subsistence importance; king eiders (Somateria spectabilis), common eiders (Somateria

mollissima), and greater white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons). Birds were sampled near

Barrow, Alaska during spring and fall hunts over three years. Results suggest differences

in CYP1A enzyme activity levels among species and years. Cell culture sensitivity and

liver CYP1A activity results from this project provides valuable tools and information for

monitoring Arctic bird populations, identifying sensitive species, and future assessments

in the event of an oil spill.

Arctic – Mammals (oral presentation)

Frequency of Injuries from Line Entanglements, Killer Whales, and Ship Strikes On Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort Seas Bowhead Whales
J. Craig George

North Slope Borough,

Gay Sheffield

University of Alaska Fairbanks,

Dan Reed

Alaska Department of Fish & Game,

Barbara Tudor

North Slope Borough,

Raphaela Stimmelmayr

North Slope Borough,

Brian Person

North Slope Borough,

Todd Sformo

North Slope Borough,

Robert Suydam

North Slope Borough,

We analyzed scarring data for Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort (BCB) Seas bowhead whales

(Balaena mysticetus) harvested by Alaska Native hunters to quantify the frequency of

line entanglement (fishing gear), ship strikes, and killer whale inflicted injuries. We had

904 records in our long-term database for whales landed between 1990 and 2012, and

after data quality screening, found 521 records containing information on scarring.

Logistic regression was used to evaluate different combinations of explanatory variables

(i.e., body length, year, sex) to develop a prediction model for each scar type. We also

provide a list of bowheads entangled in commercial fishing gear that were harvested,

found dead, or observed alive. Our findings suggest that ~12% of harvested bowheads

show entanglement scars. The frequency of entanglement scars is highly correlated with

body length where ~50% of large bowheads (>17 m) exhibit entanglement scars while

whales < 9 m rarely show such scars. Scars associated with ship strikes are infrequent

and occur on ~2% of all harvested whales; body length was not a significant factor.

Scarring from attempted killer whale predation was evident on ~8% of landed whales.

As with entanglement injuries, the frequency of killer whale scars was much higher (>

40%) on whales >16 m and statistically more frequent in the second half of the study

(2002-2012). Increased killer whale injuries in the recent decade are consistent with

studies conducted on Eastern Canada-West Greenland bowheads. The findings

presented here reflect the most thorough analysis of injury rates from entanglement,

ships, and killer whales for the BCB bowheads conducted to date. They indicate that: (1)

entanglement rates from pot fishing gear (crab/cod) are relatively high (>40%) for very

large and presumably older bowheads, (2) collisions with ships are infrequent at

present, and (3) scarring from killer whales is frequent (~50%) on very large adult whales(> 17 m). Considering that bowhead habitat is changing rapidly (e.g., sea ice reduction),

industrial ship traffic in the Arctic is increasing, and commercial fishing operations are

expanding north, we strongly recommend that monitoring of scarring/injuries on

harvested bowheads continue into the future.

Arctic – Mammals (oral presentation)

Exposure Risks and Health Effects of Algal Toxins in Marine Mammals Using both Environmental Surveillance and Biomedical Laboratory Models
Kathi Lefebvre

NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center,

David Marcinek

University of Washigton,

Kathy Burek Huntington

Alaska Veterinary and Pathology Services,

Lori Quakenbush

Alaska Department of Fish & Game,

Anna Bryan

Alaska Department of Fish & Game,

Raphaela Stimmelmayr

North Slope Borough,

Gay Sheffield

University of Alaska Fairbanks,

Heather Ziel

NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center,

Tracey Goldstein

University of California, Davis,

Jonathon Snyder

U.S. Fish and Wildlfie Service,

Tom Gelatt

NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center,

Frances Gulland

The Marine Mammal Center,

Bobette Dickerson

NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center,

Verena Gill

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management,

The Wildlife Algal-Toxin Research and Response Network (WARRN-West) provides

environmental surveillance for the presence of algal toxins in marine wildlife from the

Arctic Ocean to Southern California. Over the last decade the program has analyzed

several thousand samples from stranded and harvested animals from more than a

dozen species. Additionally, the biomedical diagnostics part of this program has

performed controlled laboratory studies using mammalian models to identify health

effects of exposure to the algal toxin domoic acid. Data on the prevalence of algal toxins

in marine mammals as well as results from controlled laboratory studies will be

presented. The effects of acute high level exposure and chronic low-level exposure to

domoic acid will be compared. A new paradigm of chronic low-level toxicity has been

identified in which a reversible impairment of spatial memory, learning, and activity

occurs in the absence of gross morphological lesions in the brain of mammals.

Arctic – Mammals (poster)

Yesterday is Gone, Tomorrow Has Not Yet Come: Compound-Specific

Stable Isotopes of Polar Bear Bone Collagen over 2000 Years
Raphaela Stimmelmayr

North Slope Borough,

Lara Horstmann

University of Alaska Fairbanks,

Matthew McCarthy

University of California, Santa Cruz,

Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are the internationally recognized face of Arctic climate

change and sea ice related habitat loss. In Alaska, two polar bear stocks are recognized,

the Southern Beaufort Sea (SBS) and the Chukchi Sea stock. The SBS stock is currently in

decline, and poor body condition, reduced fecundity, and survival have all been noted.

Sea ice loss, population recruitment, and increased land use by bears in response to the

rapidly changing Arctic are ongoing management concerns. We analyzed bone collagen

of SBS polar bears obtained from subsistence harvests (2006-2016; n=14), University of

Alaska Museum (1906-1971; n=7), and archeological digs (1850BP-1180BP; n=4) for bulk

stable isotopes (SI) and compound specific SI (CSI) of 12 individual amino acids (AA).

d15N of bulk collagen did not differ among present-day, historic, and ancient bears

(P=0.08), while 13C was significantly depleted in modern bears compared with historic

and ancient bears (P<0.0001, after Suess correction). This phenomenon has also been

observed in other Arctic marine mammals, e.g., pinnipeds, and may suggest an

increased sourcing of carbon from open-water phytoplankton over ice-associated

primary production. d15N of essential “source” AA (e.g., phenylalanine that change only

minimally in trophic transfer) did not differ among bears of the three gross time

groupings (P=0.60) indicating that baseline d15N values in the Arctic food web have

remained virtually unchanged. Threonine is a unique AA in its d15N systematics. Alone

among protein AA, threonine deamination involves an enzyme system, where the

catabolism leads to depletion rather than enrichment of 15N. This effect is more

pronounced in marine than terrestrial food webs. Interestingly, threonine was

significantly enriched in 15N of modern bears over historic and ancient animals

(P=0.008). There could be three reasons: 1) modern bears are in better body condition

than in the past; 2) the modern food web is shorter leading to less reworking of

nitrogen; and 3) modern bears rely more heavily on terrestrial food webs.

Arctic – Mammals (poster)

Prenatal Development of the Bowhead Whale and its Evolutionary

Hans Thewissen

Ohio Medical School,

Raphaela Stimmelmayr

North Slope Borough,

Craig George

North Slope Borough,

Robert Suydam

North Slope Borough,

Gay Sheffield

University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries,

This study reviews and characterizes fetal developmental landmarks of bowhead whales

(Balaena mysticetus). The subsistence harvest of bowhead whales in Northern Alaska

takes place during the Spring and Fall, and, occasionally, pregnant females are taken.

Bowheads gestation is approximately 14 months, and hence, prenatal specimens

collected from this harvest sample three ontogenetic periods: around 2 months, 8

months, and near full-term. These specimens elucidate morphological development that

is reminiscent of the evolution of cetaceans. For instance, the tail of the smallest

specimens in our collection is circular in cross-section, similar to the tail of land

mammals as well the tail of ancestral whales such as Pakicetus. In slightly older fetuses,

the tail expands laterally, and forms a diamond-shape. This is not a shape that is found

in in fossil whales, where some early cetaceans, such as Kutchicetus, had a long, narrow,

and flattened tail. Fetuses caught in fall as well as full term fetuses have a triangular

fluke, similar to postnatal animals. In evolution, this shape of fluke originated

approximately 45 million years ago, in the family Protocetidae. Spring caught Bowhead

whale fetuses show that more than 40 tooth buds are present in each jaw. These tooth

buds develop and are probably mineralized (as indicated by other baleen whales), but

are then resorbed. Adults of the fossil mysticete Aetiocetus polydentatus had a similar

numbers of teeth when it lived 35 million years ago. After the tooth buds disappear,

baleen forms, and bowheads are born with baleen approximately 10 cm long. In most

cetaceans, hind limb buds are formed early in ontogeny. Our early fetuses already show

the presence of internal cartilaginous precursors of pelvis, femur, and tibia. In adult

bowhead whales, pelvis and femur ossify, and a synovial joint occurs between them,

whereas the tibia usually remains cartilaginous. Occasionally, in postnatal bowhead

whales, the hind limb remnants are visible on the abdominal skin, which may show a

low welt, or an aberrant pigmentation pattern. Hind limbs were fully developed in most

Eocene cetaceans, and underwent a quick reduction in size and numbers of elements in

the late Eocene basilosaurids.

Arctic – Mammals (poster)

Out of Ice and Time – PATOU, the Mummified Ice Seal
Anne Jensen

North Slope Borough,

Aaron Morris

North Slope Borough,

Andrea Gonzalez

Tufts Conservation Medicine Masters Program,

Lara Horstman

University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries,

Raphaela Stimmelmayr

North Slope Borough,

Mummified specimens of pinnipeds are extremely rare and have only previously been

reported from the Antarctic. During the 2016 summer archeological excavation of the

Walakpa site, Alaska (Walakpa-Archaeological-Salvage-Project) several mummified

ringed seals were discovered in an traditional Inupiaq Sigiuaq [ice cellar). We report on

the initial forensic necropsy findings of “Patou”, as they relate to cause of death, carcass

desiccation patterns, in-situ and x-ray anatomy. Laboratory diagnostic findings including

carbon dating, harmful algae bio-toxins, disease agents, and stable isotope analysis are

pending. Briefly, external morphology (i.e. pelt, size, shape and rings of claws, absence

of a baculum) was congruent with a 5-6 year old female adult ringed seal. Whole body xrays

revealed a dense metallic body [blunt nosed bearing riffling copper jacketed 22

gage bullet] located in the neck shoulder region. Cause of death was the probable

gunshot related trauma to the head (unilateral skull bone defect -right parietal occipital

region). The desiccation pattern (i.e. organ size reduction and weight changes) observed

differed based on tissue structure, function and water content of body tissues (i.e. body

weight ~ 11kg, lung weight ~ 150 gr etc.) The chest cavity was greatly reduced in size

with the diaphragm being pulled forward. Heart and lung lobes were colored dark

brown to black. The lung lobes were compressed paper thin –like and an appearance

like a 3-D topographic map; folds appeared to be arranged where pulmonary vessels

and bronchi were situated. The abdominal plug, cigar shaped extended deeply into the

chest cavity with rib impressions clearly noted on the diaphragm and liver lobes. Liver

lobes were greatly reduced in size and the stomach and intestines were collapsed with

an associated paper-thin mesentery. Kidney tissue was located at the proper anatomical

site, however no bladder or reproductive structure were located. The mummified

specimens from the Walakpa archeological site, present a unique opportunity to travel

back in recent Arctic times and expand our understanding of processes of

mummification under an Arctic climate, and provide important recent baseline data for

life history and health aspects of an important Alaskan native ice seal subsistence


Arctic - Fishes and Fish Habitats (poster)

Fyke Net Based Fish Studies (2011-2016) in Elson Lagoon, Barrow, Alaska
Todd Sformo

North Slope Borough,

Craig George

North Slope Borough,

Fish surveys by the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management have

been conducted using fyke nets in Elson Lagoon in 1996 and from 2009-2016 with goals

to better understand fish phenology, diversity, relative abundance, and to establish a

time series useful in evaluating trends as the result of climate change and increased

industry activity in the Arctic. This study summarizes fish catches by species, length and

relative abundance in North Salt Lagoon (part of Elson Lagoon in Barrow, AK) between

2011-2016. Daily Variations in temperature and salinity during the open water season

characterize local fish habitat at fyke net location, while an overwintering 12 month

record of temperature salinity in a main pass in Elson Lagoon characterizes the larger

scale changes in water properties in the lagoon system. Of the more than 11,000 fish

caught between 2011-2016, 14 species of fish were routinely caught in the fyke net.

Least cisco and fourhorn sculpin made up ~85% of the catch, while Arctic flounder,

rainbow smelt, saffron cod, and threespine stickleback made up another 13%. It is

hoped that information from this sampling program will contribute to NRDA

assessments, as needed. However, it should be noted that NRDA evaluations based on

fyke net captures alone cannot represent the species and size diversity of fish in Elson

Lagoon. While only 0.2% of the fyke net catch are represented by pink and chum

salmon, large broad whitefish, and dolly varden, these fish are regularly caught in gill

nets at the same time and same location as the fyke net. Use of different fishing

methods should be integrated into overall fish monitoring program to provide accurate

results for NRDA assessments.

Arctic – Mammals (poster)

Field Methods: Study of Oil and Dispersant on Mysticete Whale Baleen
Todd Sformo

North Slope Borough,

Gary Shigenaka

NOAA Office of Response & Restoration,

Michael Moore

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution,

Jason Kapit

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution,

Tom Lanagan

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution,

Craig George

North Slope Borough,

Teri Rowles

NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service,

Alexander Werth

Hampden-Sydney College, Hampden-Sydney, VA,

This poster examines methods used to study effects of oil and dispersed oil on the

functional characteristics of mysticete whale baleen. The objectives were to

quantitatively assess drag in baleen (control) and to study the potential change in drag

when North Slope crude oil and Corexit 9500A dispersant are introduced. To secure the

baleen for movement through water in the OHMSETT tank, a lever arm was fabricated

at WHOI consisting of a baleen clamp, load cell, and pivot. The baleen clamp was

mounted on a turntable that has 20 different positions to allow baleen to be rotated.

Two Omega load cells were used (500 and 100 lbs), and load cell and bridge speed data

were recorded. Baleen from bowhead, right, and humpback whales (N=7) ranged from

0.5 to 2.7 meters in length and from 9 to 56 plates. Baleen was positioned at 90 and 54 °

orientation, and each baleen sample was run through water from 0.2 to 1.6 knots at 0.2

knot increments for a total of 127 runs. For oil treatment, we submerged baleen with a

crane, and applied fresh oil to the surface within a containing hoop. The baleen was

then lifted through the oil. For dispersed oil treatment, Corexit 9500A was premixed

with oil and dispensed through a series of underwater nozzles.

Arctic – Mammals (poster)

Dive Behavior of Bowhead Whales within the Cape Bathurst Polynya
John Citta

Alaska Department of Fish & Game,

Lori Quakenbush

Alaska Department of Fish & Game,

Steven Okkonen

University of Alaska Fairbanks,

Matthew Druckenmiller

National Snow and Ice Datacenter,

Lois Harwood

Fisheries and Oceans Canada,

John "Craig" George

North Slope Borough,

Mads Peter Heide-Jorgensen

Greenland Institute of Natural Resources,

Each spring, the majority of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) of the Bering-

Chukchi-Beaufort (BCB) stock leave their wintering grounds in the Bering Sea and

migrate northeast towards the Canadian Arctic. Satellite tagging studies indicate that

most of these whales migrate to the Cape Bathurst polynya within the entrance of

Amundsen Gulf, Canada. These whales leave the Bering Sea prior to the spring ice

retreat in April and May, shortly before the Bering Sea becomes one of the most

productive seas in the world, and it is unknown if foraging conditions in May and June

are better for whales at their destination within the Cape Bathurst polynya than if they

had remained within the Bering Sea. Although we know that satellite tagged whales

migrate to the Cape Bathurst polynya, the diving behavior of whales within the polynya

has yet to be formally examined. Here we examine the diving behavior of 17 bowhead

whales tagged with satellite-linked transmitters between 2008 and 2015. To allow us to

comment on the likelihood that whales are feeding within the polynya each spring, we

characterize the dive behavior of these whales, summarizing dive depths, the time

whales spend at depth, and the frequency of diving, both within the polynya and under

adjacent sea ice. We also use paired measurements of depth and temperature for two

tags (1 in 2014 and 1 in 2016) to describe the water masses whales frequent.

Arctic - Fishes and Fish Habitats (oral presentation)

Arctic Coastal Ecosystems: Evaluating the Functional Role and

Connectivity of Lagoon and Nearshore Habitats
Johanna Vollenweider

NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center,

Ron Heintz

NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center,

Kevin Boswell

Florida International University,

Brenda Norcross

University of Alaska Fairbanks,

Chunyan Li

Louisiana State University,

Mark Barton

Florida International University,

Leandra Sousa

North Slope Borough,

Craig George

North Slope Borough,

Alexei Pinchuk

University of Alaska Fairbanks,

The ecological function of nearshore Arctic habitats is poorly understood, particularly

their connectivity and contribution to overall productivity of the Arctic Large Marine

Ecosystem. We assessed “seasonal” variation in Arctic nearshore fish communities in

relation to habitat and the degree of connectivity between three water bodies (Chukchi

Sea, Beaufort Sea, Elson Lagoon) adjacent to Barrow, Alaska during the ice-free, summer

season (July – August) 2013 - 2015. Through weekly beach seining, trawl collections

along fixed transects, concurrent oceanographic measurements, and laboratory

processing of fish samples, we tested the hypothesis that species composition, size,

energy content, feeding ecology, and age structure of fish communities do not vary

among habitats. Over 40 species of fish inhabit the nearshore, the majority of which

were juveniles. The Arctic nearshore is “reset” every year through ice scouring, as

observed from bathymetric features using fine-scale habitat mapping. As summer

progresses, fish move into newly-available habitat and species diversity and abundance

increases on a weekly time-scale. Fish community structure varies by water body as a

result of wind-driven ocean currents. Chukchi sites were most different from the other

water bodies, with annual differences in the fish community likely stemming from

influences of the adjacent Alaska Coastal Current and Barrow Canyon. Inter-annual

differences in community composition in western Beaufort sites were likely derived

from storm-driven ocean mixing, whereas the fish community in the partially-enclosed

Elson Lagoon was invariable from year to year. Stable isotopes indicate many trophic

levels, likely from a diverse zooplankton assemblage. In the marine water bodies, a terrestrial-derived basal resource was identified, while terrestrial organic matter from

tundra runoff and marine primary producers advected in were apparent in the lagoon.

Different trophic pathways did not result in differences in fish condition amongst water

bodies, rather fish condition in the nearshore was low relative to off-shore regions.

While Arctic nearshore habitats provide an important link between terrestrial and

oceanic habitats, the highly volatile environmental conditions in these regions take an

energetic toll on juvenile fish.

Arctic – Mammals (poster)

Decadal Shifts in Autumn Migration Timing by Pacific Arctic Beluga

Whales are Related to Delayed Annual Sea Ice Formation
Donna Hauser

University of Washigton,

Kristin Laidre

University of Washigton,

Kate Stafford

University of Washigton,

Harry Stern

University of Washigton,

Robert Suydam

North Slope Borough,

Pierre Richard

Fisheries and Oceans Canada,

Migrations are often influenced by seasonal environmental gradients that are

increasingly being altered by climate change. The consequences of rapid changes in

Arctic sea ice have the potential to affect migrations of a number of marine species

whose timing is temporally matched to seasonal sea ice cover. This topic has not been

investigated for Pacific Arctic beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) that follow

matrilineally-maintained autumn migrations in the waters around Alaska and Russia. For

the sympatric Eastern Chukchi Sea (‘Chukchi’) and Eastern Beaufort Sea (‘Beaufort’)

beluga populations, we examined changes in autumn migration timing as related to

delayed regional sea ice freeze-up since the 1990s, using two independent data sources

(satellite telemetry data and passive acoustics) for both populations. Comparing dates

of migration between ‘early’ (1993-2002) and ‘late’ (2004-2012) tagging periods,

Chukchi belugas had significantly delayed migrations (by 2 to >4 weeks, depending on

location) from the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in the late period. Spatial analyses also

revealed that departure from Beaufort Sea foraging regions by Chukchi whales was

postponed in the late period. Chukchi beluga autumn migration timing occurred

significantly later as regional sea ice freeze-up timing became later in the Beaufort,

Chukchi, and Bering seas. In contrast, Beaufort belugas did not shift migration timing

between periods, nor was migration timing related to freeze-up timing, other than for

southward migration at the Bering Strait. Passive acoustic data from 2008-2014

provided independent and supplementary support for delayed migration from the

Beaufort Sea (4 d/y) by Chukchi belugas. Here we report the first phenological study

examining beluga whale migrations within the context of their rapidly transforming

Pacific Arctic ecosystem, suggesting flexible responses that may enable their persistence

yet also complicate predictions of how belugas may fare in a changing Arctic.

Arctic - Fishes and Fish Habitats (oral presentation)

Environmental Drivers of Benthic Fish Distribution In and Around Barrow Canyon in the Northeastern Chukchi Sea and Western Beaufort Sea
Elizabeth Logerwell

NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center,

Kimberly Rand

NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center,

Seth Danielson

University of Alaska Fairbanks,

Leandra Sousa

North Slope Borough,

We investigate the relationships between Arctic fish and their environment with the

goal of illustrating mechanisms of climate change impacts. A multidisciplinary research

survey was conducted to characterize fish distribution and oceanographic processes in

and around Barrow Canyon in the northeastern Chukchi Sea in summer 2013. Benthic

fish were sampled with standard bottom trawl survey methods. Oceanographic data

were collected at each trawl station. The density of Arctic cod (Boreogadus saida), the

most abundant species, was related to bottom depth, salinity and temperature. Arctic

cod were more abundant in deep, cold and highly saline water in Barrow Canyon that

was likely advected from the Chukchi Shelf or from the Arctic Basin. We hypothesize

that Arctic cod occupied Barrow Canyon to take advantage of energy-rich copepods

transported in these water masses. A similar habitat selection occurred in the Beaufort

Sea, documented by a comparable multidisciplinary survey conducted in 2008. These

linkages between oceanographic variables and benthic fish distribution and abundance

suggest that advection, sea ice dynamics and pelagic-benthic coupling are important for

the ecology of benthic Arctic fishes. These processes have been and will likely continue

to be impacted by climate change. Our results improve the understanding of the

mechanistic linkages between climate change and benthic Arctic fish ecology.

Arctic - Fishes and Fish Habitats (poster)

Environmental Drivers of Spatio-Temporal Changes in Arctic Nearshore Fish Communities
Mark Barton

Florida International University,

Kevin Boswell

Florida International University,

Johanna Vollenweider

NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center,

Ron Heintz

NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center,

Brenda Norcross

University of Alaska Fairbanks,

Chunyan Li

Louisiana State University,

Nathan Lemoine

University of Richmond,

Leandra Sousa

North Slope Borough,

The Arctic is facing imminent threats from climate change and the anthropogenic

activities that accompany it. It is important that we establish a thorough understanding

of the functionality of Arctic marine ecosystems before these threats are realized so that

we can properly identify future impacts or ecosystem injuries. Much work has been

done in offshore regions of the Arctic Ocean, but our understanding of the role of

nearshore habitats is lacking in comparison. Spatio-temporal changes in community

composition may be the best indicator of ecosystem changes. However, in order to

identify impacts and ecosystem injuries we must first understand the current

community structure and variability associated with seasonal patterns and

physicochemical factors. Using catch data collected with beach seines (n=178 hauls)

during three consecutive summers (2013-15) at weekly intervals at 12 sampling stations

around Point Barrow, AK, we identified distinct differences in the communities found in

broad shelf coastal beaches (Beaufort Sea), narrow shelf coastal beaches (Chukchi Sea),

and sheltered shallow lagoons (Elson Lagoon). Furthermore, we identified 7 major

environmental, spatial and temporal factors responsible for approximately 40% of

variability in community composition. This information will help streamline future

monitoring efforts and aid in identifying impacts of climate change or anthropogenic


Arctic - Climate and Oceanography (poster)

Relationships Among Sea Level, Hydrography, and Circulation in Coastal Waters near Barrow, Alaska
Stephen Okkonen

University of Alaska Fairbanks,

Todd Sformo

North Slope Borough,

Sea level estimates derived from pressure gauges deployed in Elson Lagoon near

Barrow, Alaska along with concurrent measurements of temperature and salinity

indicate that the Meade River freshet occurring in late May and early June 2015

elevated the sea ice cover in Dease Inlet by ~40 cm. The absence of corresponding sea

level changes at sites in central and western Elson Lagoon, along with MODIS satellite

imagery, suggest that the freshet exited the lagoon primarily through the eastern barrier

island passages and contributed to the melting and breakup of the landfast sea ice

immediately seaward of these passages.

Arctic – Mammals (poster)

Spotted Seal (Phoca largha) Spatial Use, Dives, and Haul-Out Behavior in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and Bering Seas (2012-2016)
Aaron Morris

North Slope Borough,

Andrew Von Duyke

North Slope Borough,

David Douglas

U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center,

Rowenna Gryba

Stantec, Inc.,

Jason Herreman

Alaska Department of Fish & Game,

Spotted seals (Phoca largha) are pagophilic and likely to experience biological

disruptions due to declining sea-ice and increasing Arctic shipping and industrialization.

The implications of such changes are difficult to assess given the generally sparse data

available on ice-seals. To develop a better baseline understanding, we captured spotted

seals (n = 29) in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas near Barrow, AK. We mounted Argos

satellite transmitters on each seal’s back (a Wildlife Computers SPLASH model or Sea

Mammal Research Unit tag) and rear flipper (WC SPOT model). Data on their daily

movements, dives, and haul-out behavior were used to identify seasonal patterns in

spotted seal spatial ecology. Tagged seals ranged widely from the Beaufort Sea to Bristol

Bay. Though some seals were associated with coastal regions in the winter, most were

pelagic. Continental shelf (<100m) occupancy ranged from a summer low of ~50%, to a

winter high of >81%. Occupancy of coastal areas (<10 km from shore) dropped from

summer (48%) to winter (12%), but increased again in spring (20%). Shelf break habitat

(100-300 m) was sometimes occupied (7-13%) during the winter and spring, but seals

were never located beyond the 300m isobath. Ice-free habitat occupancy dropped from

>99% in summer to 16% in winter. Pack (>50% concentration) and marginal ice (15-50%)

habitat occupancy increased during fall (30%, 13%) and winter (68%, 16%), but fell in

spring (27%, 11%). Dive depths were variable all year, but depths increased from a

summer mean of 17.7 m (σ = 17.2) to about 47 m in the winter and spring (σwin = 34.5;

σspr = 42.6). Winter and spring dive histograms were bi-modal, with shallow dives typical

of nearshore seals and possibly those in transit, while deeper dives typically

corresponded to bathymetry, suggesting most foraging dives were benthic. Haul-out

times were variable throughout the year, but peaked in May and were the lowest during

the fall and winter daytime hours. The new baseline information provided by this study

will serve to guide decision-makers tasked with managing Arctic wildlife populations in

an era of unprecedented climatic, economic, and social change.

Arctic – Mammals (poster)

Non-Invasive Genetic Sampling of Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus) Along the Chukchi Sea Coast of Alaska
Kimberly Titus

Alaska Department of Fish & Game,

Kelly Nesvacil

Alaska Department of Fish & Game,

Andrew Von Duyke

North Slope Borough,

Estimating polar bear (Ursus maritimus) abundance in the Chukchi Sea is vital for setting

an annual sustainable harvest quota as required under the US-Russia Bilateral Polar Bear

Agreement. Remote and challenging conditions make data collection difficult and costly,

and no reliable abundance estimate exists for establishing the quota. There is ongoing

concern over invasive study methods among stakeholders, researchers, and agencies.

Recognizing that polar bear conservation, management, and research would benefit

from alternative approaches that are less costly and invasive, we adapted and assessed

hair snag methods more widely used for black and brown bear genetic sampling. DNA

from hair follicles can genetically identify individuals, which may be useful for estimating

the number of polar bears moving by coastal communities, and to augment large

datasets used for spatial mark-recapture abundance estimates. Prior to starting, we

sought and received support from the Alaska Nanuuq Commission, Barrow Whaling

Captains, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, coastal village community leaders,

and the Scientific Working Group of the US-Russia Polar Bear Commission. With help

from local hunters, we deployed 9 portable hair snare stations on shorefast ice near

Barrow from 11-March to 15-May, and 10 stations near Pt. Lay from 14-April to 5-May.

Stations used barb wire to snag hair and visual and scent attractants to draw in bears.

Stations were checked twice per week. Poor ice conditions near Pt. Lay limited station

location placement and likely negatively affected performance. Over 127 trap nights

along the beach near Pt. Lay we obtained 0 polar bear hair samples and 6 brown bear

samples. In Barrow, we had 22 hair capture events at single trap stations, with 45 total

samples over 340 trap nights. Several hair samples were likely duplicates. Visits by bears

to stations increased with nearby whaling activities. We also experimented with “bucket

snags” near Barrow. This method used steel bristle pipe brushes to snag hair and

collected substantially more hair per event than barb wire. Wire brushes were easier to

use and had better public perception than barb wire. This project will expand in 2017

across more coastal areas with longer sampling periods.

Arctic – Mammals (poster)

Update of Hunter-Assisted Seal Tagging and Traditional Knowledge

Studies of Pacific Arctic Seals, 2016 and Beyond
Justin Crawford

Alaska Department of Fish & Game,

Mark Nelson

Alaska Department of Fish & Game,

Lori Quakenbush

Alaska Department of Fish & Game,

Andrew Von Duyke

North Slope Borough,

Merlin Henry

Subsistence hunter,

Alexander Niksik Jr.

Subsistence hunter,

Albert Simon

Subsistence hunter,

John Goodwin

Subsistence hunter,

Alex Whiting

Kotzebue IRA,

Kathy Frost

University of Alaska Fairbanks,

Josh London

NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center,

Peter Boveng

OAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center,

Ringed (Pusa hispida), bearded (Erignathus barbatus), and spotted (Phoca largha) seals

use sea ice for pupping, nursing, molting, and resting. Decreases in the extent of sea ice

and lengthening of the open water season have eased access to the Arctic, expediting

the need to plan development activities to minimize effects on seals. Our understanding

of seal habitats, behavior, and timing of movements by all species, age, and sex classes,

however, is limited. We expanded upon a cooperative satellite telemetry study of Pacific

Arctic seals with hunter-taggers and biologists in Kotzebue Sound, first through a

National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) funded project, and currently through the

merger of two studies, funded separately by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

and Office of Naval Research, further fostering collaborations among the Alaska

Department of Fish and Game, North Slope Borough, NMFS, Ice Seal Committee, and

subsistence seal hunters. We worked with hunter-taggers from five villages along the

Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas to deploy transmitters on seals to study habitat use,

timing of movements, seasonal site fidelity, and association and use of sea ice and

oceanographic features. By tagging seals in multiple locations and seasons, we minimize

the biases from deploying all of the tags at the same location during the same season. In 2016, four bearded and one ringed seal tagged in 2014 and 2015 wintered in the Bering

Sea and Norton Sound. Seven bearded, three ringed, and seven spotted seals were

tagged near Barrow, Koyuk, and St. Michael. Seals tracked during 2016 ranged in all

three Arctic seas from Bristol Bay in the Bering Sea, to the north and west (near Wrangel

Island, Russia) in the Chukchi Sea, and east to Kaktovik, Alaska in the Beaufort Sea. Local

and traditional knowledge enhances our understanding of how seals and hunters may

respond to changing sea ice conditions. Reports generated from interviews of

subsistence users in Barrow, Elim, St. Michael, Stebbins, Kivalina, Kotzebue, Shishmaref,

Pt. Lay, and Wainwright were summarized in a publication in 2016. Future plans include

training more hunter-taggers and tagging additional seals from coastal villages.

Arctic – Mammals (poster)

Ringed Seal (Pusa hispida) Spatial Use, Dives, and Haul-Out Behavior in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and Bering Seas (2011-2016)
Andrew Von Duyke

North Slope Borough,

Aaron Morris

North Slope Borough,

David Douglas

U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center,

Jason Herreman

Alaska Department of Fish & Game,

Ringed seals (Pusa hispida) are ecologically important as upper trophic level predators,

the primary prey of polar bears (Ursus maritimus), and as a subsistence resource for

Alaska natives. Ringed seals are ice-dependent and therefore vulnerable to sea-ice loss,

industrialization, and increased Arctic shipping. Rather sparse ecological data make it

difficult to assess the influences of these ecological disruptions, and creates challenges

for developing mitigation measures. To address this information need, we captured

ringed seals (n = 37) in the Chukchi Sea near Barrow, AK and affixed Wildlife Computers

Argos satellite transmitters to their back or head (SPLASH model) and to a rear flipper

(SPOT model). Daily movements, diving, and haul-out data were collected in order to

characterize temporal trends in their spatial ecology. Results indicate that ringed seals

range extensively across the Beaufort, Chukchi, and Bering Seas. Continental shelf (<100

m) areas were important and ringed seals occupy this habitat for >60% of the time

annually and upwards of 85% in the fall & early winter. During spring, ringed seals

occupied the shelf-break (100-300 m) in the Bering Sea for >34% of the time, while the

deep basin (>300 m) Beaufort Sea was occupied for >15% of the time during the

summer. Coastal areas (<10 km from shore) were occupied from 6.6-10.9% of the time

from spring to fall, but not during the winter. Dives averaged 29.4 m (σ = 26.3) in the

summer, 15.2 m (σ = 12.4) in the fall, 15.3 m (σ = 2.3) in the winter, and 13.5 m (σ = 2.7)

in the spring. Dive depths were bimodal in the summer, a time when several seals

ventured beyond the shelf break. Sea-ice habitat varied seasonally with the least

occupancy of pack-ice (1.9%) in the summer, >34% in the fall, >93% in the winter, and

>62% in the spring. Wet/dry sensor data indicated that haul-out times peak in April &

May, and are lowest in autumn and during winter daylight hours. This study provides

new baseline information to serve as a guide to wildlife managers, planners, and


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