Humpback and minke whale acoustic presence with reference to fish sounds and ambient noise levels at Saba Bank, Caribbean Windward Dutch Islands
The Antillean Island chain is a known breeding and calving ground for North Atlantic humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). However, while most research efforts for this species have focused on the largest aggregation of whales, located on Silver Bank, off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, there are still significant knowledge gaps with respect to humpback whale movements along the Antillean Island chain. Even less is known about the spatio-temporal distribution of other marine mammal and fish species in the region. This report summarizes analysis results of acoustic data (10-8000 Hz effective analysis bandwidth recorded at a 25% duty cycle), recorded on the north east of Saba Bank from October 2011 to April 2012. The results show the consistent presence of humpback whales in the vicinity of Saba Bank during their winter breeding season, occasional presence of minke whales and the presence of sound producing fish assemblages. Humpback whale song occurred from the end of December to the end of the recording period in April. From February to April humpback whale song was recorded on more than 89 % of all recording days, though it occurred most frequently in March. All recording days in March showed song presence, with an average of 8.5 ± 2.8 (mean ± SE) hours of recorded song per day. In contrast, for minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) 48 pulse trains (n = 32) were detected less frequently between February to April 2012. A variety of unidentified fish sounds were present throughout the recordings. Although the occurrence of these sounds was not quantified, notable fish choruses (e.g. grouper spp. Epinephelinae) consisting of one to two distinct pulsed calls in the frequency range of 100 - 600 Hz were documented from October to December 2011 in particular. The results of this pilot project highlight the feasibility of using passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) to explore year-round marine mammal and fish presence and distribution in otherwise understudied and remote field sites.