Diving behaviour of adult male white whales (Delphinapterus leucas) in Svalbard, Norway

  • Jade Vacquié-Garcia Norwegian Polar Institute, Fram Centre, Tromsø, Norway
  • Christian Lydersen Norwegian Polar Institute, Fram Centre, Tromsø, Norway
  • Kit M. Kovacs Norwegian Polar Institute, Fram Centre, Tromsø, Norway
Keywords: Arctic, beluga, climate change, environmental change, foraging, travelling


White whales (Delphinapterus leucas) in Svalbard remain near the coast much of the year, spending most of their time in front of tidewater glaciers. In this article, the diving behaviour of adult male white whales in Svalbard (N = 16) is presented based on satellite-relay data loggers that record time and depth of diving as well as positions. The loggers transmitted data for an average of 87 ± 52 days (range 2–163 days). After filtering, 55 359 dives were available for the study. Most of the dives were extremely shallow (13 ± 26 m, maximum 350 m) and of short duration (97 ± 123 s, maximum 31.4 min). At tidewater glacier fronts, the white whales optimized their time at the bottom of dives and spent longer periods resting at the surface after dives, in accordance with what would be expected when foraging. This behaviour was also documented when animals were out in the fjords. When the whales moved between areas around the archipelago, they swam close to the coast, staying right below the surface most of the time, presumably to minimize energy expenditure during transits. When sea ice formed during the winter, the whales were forced offshore into somewhat deeper areas with drifting ice. In these areas, the whales minimized time at the surface and dove somewhat deeper, sometimes reaching the bottom, presumably to feed on neritic prey.


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How to Cite
Vacquié-Garcia, J., Lydersen, C., & Kovacs, K. M. (2019). Diving behaviour of adult male white whales (Delphinapterus leucas) in Svalbard, Norway. Polar Research, 38. https://doi.org/10.33265/polar.v38.3605
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