Assessing Beaked Whale Reproduction and Stress Response Relative to Sonar Activity at the Atlantic Undersea Test & Evaluation Center (AUTEC)

Open Access Report

Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation

Atypical mass strandings and behavioral responses of beaked whales have been correlated with exposure to naval sonar (e.g. Simmonds and Lopez-Juraco 1991; Frantzis 1998; Evans and England 2001), highlighting a need to understand the potential physiological impacts to individual whales and if these in turn represent a biologically significant threat to exposed populations. The long-term goal of this study is to assess glucocorticoid levels from blubber biopsies of targeted species, to assess stress levels relative to sonar exposure. Specifically, the project aims to collect biopsy samples at the U.S. Navy’s Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) in the Andros-AUTEC Operating Area where fleet readiness training involves regular use of mid-frequency active sonars, and compare the levels to those measured in biopsies collected from control populations within the Bahamas region that are less exposed to sonar activity. In parallel, pregnancy states will be ascertained via blubber progesterone levels in both groups of animals to investigate whether there is a relationship between sonar activity, stress measures, and reproductive rates, to assess population-level impacts.

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