DOI: 10.1121/10.0022516 ISSN: 0001-4966

Communication in Cook Inlet beluga whales: Describing the vocal repertoire and masking of calls by commercial ship noise

Arial M. Brewer, Manuel Castellote, Amy M. Van Cise, Tom Gage, Andrew M. Berdahl
  • Acoustics and Ultrasonics
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

Many species rely on acoustic communication to coordinate activities and communicate to conspecifics. Cataloging vocal behavior is a first step towards understanding how individuals communicate information and how communication may be degraded by anthropogenic noise. The Cook Inlet beluga population is endangered with an estimated 331 individuals. Anthropogenic noise is considered a threat for this population and can negatively impact communication. To characterize this population's vocal behavior, vocalizations were measured and classified into three categories: whistles (n = 1264, 77%), pulsed calls (n = 354, 22%), and combined calls (n = 15, 1%), resulting in 41 call types. Two quantitative analyses were conducted to compare with the manual classification. A classification and regression tree and Random Forest had a 95% and 85% agreement with the manual classification, respectively. The most common call types per category were then used to investigate masking by commercial ship noise. Results indicate that these call types were partially masked by distant ship noise and completely masked by close ship noise in the frequency range of 0–12 kHz. Understanding vocal behavior and the effects of masking in Cook Inlet belugas provides important information supporting the management of this endangered population.

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