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Recruitment Processes Program

Chukchi Acoustic, Oceanographic, and Zooplankton (CHAOZ) Study

figure 1, see caption
Figure 1.  2011 CHAOZ Cruise Trackline and Station Locations.  This figure shows the locations and variety of scientific measurements made during this interdisciplinary cruise which focused on habitat suitability for large whales in the Chukchi Sea.  Figure courtesy of Jessica Crance, NMML.

The RACE Recruitment Processes Program, NMML Cetacean Assessment & Ecology Program, and Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) Ocean Environment Research Division are partnering on a multi-disciplinary examination of the eastern Chukchi Sea ecosystem called CHAOZ (CHukchi Acoustic, Oceanographic, and Zooplankton). The program relies on both NOAA and external funding (U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement).

Scientists are using summer shipboard observations and year-round measurements from moored instruments to 1) assess the seasonal occurrence and relative abundance of whales in the region, 2) understand how environmental variability influences whale distribution and relative abundance, and 3) predict how future climate-mediated changes in environmental conditions (e.g. sea ice extent) will modify habitat use by large whales.

Scientists completed their second cruise to the region this past September working on the fishing vessel Mystery Bay, a 170-ft Bering Sea crabber. The boat accommodated 12 scientists at any one time; in addition to AFSC and PMEL employees, scientists from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and Cornell University participated.

During the cruise, all moorings and instruments deployed in 2010 were successfully recovered. Underway acoustic and visual surveys for the distribution and abundance of marine mammals were collected during transits as well as visual surveys of seabirds.

Hydrographic stations (Fig. 1 above) focused on obtaining information on the physical and chemical properties of the water column (temperature, salinity, dissolved nutrients, dissolved oxygen, light, chlorophyll) and the availability of prey for baleen whales. A new set of instruments was deployed that will overwinter and be retrieved late summer 2012.

While the new instruments collect data, scientists will be hard at work trying to analyze and interpret data from the 2010 deployments. Stay tuned to learn what new ecosystem insights have been gained from winter and early spring measurements.

By Jeffrey Napp

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