Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom
Most North Sea cetacean species are wide-ranging and consequently poorly studied. Spatial and temporal trends in the distribution of the harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena, white-beaked dolphin Lagenorhynchus albirostris, and minke whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata were assessed at a coastal North Sea study area in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Between March 1999 and October 2001, cetacean data were collected using both land- and vessel-based survey methods. A total of 174 sightings of these three cetacean species was recorded during approximately 330 h of combined survey effort (228 h land-based and 102 h vessel-based). Harbour porpoises were present throughout the year with peak occurrence during August and September. The presence of white-beaked dolphins and minke whales was strictly seasonal, with a peak in occurrence during August. The fine-scale distribution of all three species varied within the study area, with an apparent preference for sections of coast adjacent to deeper water. Most porpoise calves and juveniles were recorded between June and September, when 35% of harbour porpoise groups contained immature animals. The proportion of calves amongst porpoise sightings was higher during June than any other month. White-beaked dolphin calves were present in 32% of groups, and occurred in all three months that the species was recorded. Group size was higher in white-beaked dolphin pods containing immature animals. The strong seasonality in occurrence of all three species may relate to requirements for breeding habitat, movements of shared prey species and/or inter-specific competition with other species.
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