Ringed Seals & Vessel Noise

Climate change is driving unprecedented changes in sea ice coverage throughout the Arctic, causing shifts in predator and prey distributions, and altering the underwater soundscape: as the duration and extent of ice-free periods increase, so is vessel noise. 

Ringed seals (Pusa hispida) are an ice-obligate species that produce low-amplitude vocalizations year-round in the relatively quiet Arctic soundscape. An important food source for polar bears and indigenous communities, they are integral to the arctic landscape and yet there is a lack of data concerning how they use their underwater habitat, the contexts in which they vocalize, and whether increases in vessel noise impact their vocal behavior and movement patterns.

To address these knowledge gaps, I will conduct a multi-pronged study in the western Arctic that:

1) Uses long-term satellite tags to identify areas and features of the environment that are important to ringed seals throughout the year

2) Uses seal location data from medium-term fast-loc GPS tags, along with AIS vessel tracks, to quantify ringed seal exposure to vessel noise during open water periods

3) Employs short-term hydrophone-equipped tags to determine if ringed seals adjust vocal and diving behaviors when exposed to noise from underwater playback experiments

(Photo credit: Aqqalu Rosing-Asvid)