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Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
SSE Accomplishments Report

Ecology of Fishes on Deep Boulder Reefs

Scott Gardner, Nutco, prepares Peter Auster for a dive in the DeepWorker.

Peter Auster and James Lindholm, both from the National Undersea Research Center at the University of Connecticut, conducted a study of the habitat use of fishes on deep boulder reefs using the DeepWorker submersibles. Five daytime dives were completed to assess species composition on different parts of reefs, which were categorized by habitat complexity. Preliminary analysis of data from the submersibles, combined with previous remotely operated vehicle (ROV) studies, indicates that community composition was correlated with habitat complexity across boulder reef structures. Future studies are planned to determine how light effects the distribution and behavior of fishes. Light levels vary seasonally, by depth, and by photoperiod. Dives both day and night will allow a first order assessment of how reef strucutures are used for shelter as well as foraging areas.

Launching a remotely operated vehicle used in habitat surveys

Bioacoustic Research

During the Sustainable Seas Expedition in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, a contingent of students and teachers from the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, Connecticut assisted principal investigator Peter M. Scheifele of the National Undersea Research Center at the University of Connecticut in conducting bioacoustic studies of humpback whales. The goals of the research were to: continue monitoring ambient noise levels in the whale habitat areas; evaluate the contribution of anthropogenic noise to the ambient noise; and analyze a humpback whale phonation that is believed to be associated with a potential new feeding behaviour. The research was carried out aboard the S/V Mimi.

Ambient Noise Assessment. Noise measurements were taken during the period July 9 through July 15, 1999. Although the analysis of this year's noise levels is still in progress, the noise levels for 1999 are thus far consistent with those taken in 1997 and 1998. Some 230 discrete noise samples were taken on this mission, each sample being two minutes in length.

Contribution of Anthropogenic Noise. Of the total samples taken over half included the contribution of nearby vessels and whales. Individual analysis of vessels (most of which were whale watching vessels) has not been completed. Of significance this year are recordings of the New England Aquarium twin-hulled, high speed catamaran. This vessel uses a pump-jet system for propulsion, and sound signatures of this type of vessel have not been developed.

Aggregations of feeding whales were located from a blimp.

Potential Humpback Whale Feeding Phonation. Over the last two years, recordings have been made of a phonation that appears to be made during feeding times for whales in the sanctuary. Given the scarcity of pelagic prey species in the water column it is thought that the whales are now bottom-feeding on the American sand lance (Ammodytes americanus). A study by Ivar G. Babb and Peter M. Scheifele is currently underway to determine if there is correlation between the population of sand lance and the humpback whale. If this is the case, we are speculating that the whales may be learning to use sound (in the form of this particular phonation) to move the sand lance into the water column for feeding. This would represent a significant modification to the humpback feeding process. During this mission, the research crew recorded the phonation of interest repeatedly, again during feeding. They have begun an acoustical analysis of the phonation and have developed a "humpback whale phonation evaluation and archive" system. This system will allow phonations to be catalogued according to their frequency, content, contour, duration, and inter-phonation repetition rate. It also allows phonations (such as the one in question) to be analyzed for repeatability. This program development is in progress.

Peter Auster being lauched for a dive in the DeepWorker.

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