Belugas in the Mackenzie River estuary, NT, Canada: Habitat use and hot spots in the Tarium Niryutait Marine Protected Area

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The Tarium Niryutait MPA (TNMPA) was created in 2010, through the collaborative efforts of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Inuvialuit, private industry and local stakeholders. The purpose of the TNMPA is to conserve and protect the biological resources within the Mackenzie Estuary, ensuring viability of a healthy population of beluga whales. TNMPA regulations allow for the conduct of certain industry activities (e.g., dredging, transportation, and hydrocarbon exploration and production activity), as long as disturbance, damage, destruction or removal of belugas do not occur or are not expected. Our goal is to summarize baseline knowledge of the times, areas and patterns of aggregation of belugas in the TNMPA, to inform future monitoring, research and environmental assessments of any developments proposed for the TNMPA. Sightings of surfaced belugas in the Mackenzie River estuary made during seven summers of aerial surveys between 1977 and 1992 were examined using contemporary geospatial analytical methods. A total of 77 aerial surveys met the minimum criteria for inclusion: flown in their entirety, without interruption, under calm sea conditions, and with full visibility. The distribution of surfaced belugas was significantly clustered in three time periods (June 26-July 9, July 10-20, July 21-31) and in all sub areas of the TNMPA (Ripley's L, p<0.0001). Sighting rates varied by subarea and time period, with Niaqunnaq Bay having rates 3-4 times higher (p<0.0001) in the corresponding period, compared with West Mackenzie (WM), East Mackenzie (EM) and Kugmallit (KB) bays, in all but WM in late July. During early and mid-July of 1977-1985, belugas were aggregated in seven localized, recurrent geographic areas within the TNMPA, termed here as 'hot spots'. Results will foster more confident and informed decisions about the acceptability of proposed industry activities in the TNMPA, ensuring assessments are evidence-based and not unnecessary restrictive. © 2014 Published by Elsevier Ltd.




Harwood, L. A., Iacozza, J., Auld, J. C., Norton, P., & Loseto, L. (2014). Belugas in the Mackenzie River estuary, NT, Canada: Habitat use and hot spots in the Tarium Niryutait Marine Protected Area. Ocean and Coastal Management, 100, 128–138.

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