Detections of Whale Vocalizations by Simultaneously Deployed Bottom-Moored and Deep-Water Mobile Autonomous Hydrophones
Advances in mobile autonomous platforms for oceanographic sensing, including gliders and deep-water profiling floats, have provided new opportunities for passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) of cetaceans. However, there are few direct comparisons of these mobile autonomous systems to more traditional methods, such as stationary bottom-moored recorders. Cross-platform comparisons are necessary to enable interpretation of results across historical and contemporary surveys that use different recorder types, and to identify potential biases introduced by the platform. Understanding tradeoffs across recording platforms informs best practices for future cetacean monitoring efforts. This study directly compares the PAM capabilities of a glider (Seaglider) and a deep-water profiling float (QUEphone) to a stationary seafloor system (High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package, or HARP) deployed simultaneously over a 2 week period in the Catalina Basin, California, United States. Two HARPs were deployed 4 km apart while a glider and deep-water float surveyed within 20 km of the HARPs. Acoustic recordings were analyzed for the presence of multiple cetacean species, including beaked whales, delphinids, and minke whales. Variation in acoustic occurrence at 1-min (beaked whales only), hourly, and daily scales were examined. The number of minutes, hours, and days with beaked whale echolocation clicks were variable across recorders, likely due to differences in the noise floor of each recording system, the spatial distribution of the recorders, and the short detection radius of such a high-frequency, directional signal type. Delphinid whistles and clicks were prevalent across all recorders, and at levels that may have masked beaked whale vocalizations. The number and timing of hours and days with minke whale boing sounds were nearly identical across recorder types, as was expected given the relatively long propagation distance of boings. This comparison provides evidence that gliders and deep-water floats record cetaceans at similar detection rates to traditional stationary recorders at a single point. The spatiotemporal scale over which these single hydrophone systems record sounds is highly dependent on acoustic features of the sound source. Additionally, these mobile platforms provide improved spatial coverage which may be critical for species that produce calls that propagate only over short distances such as beaked whales.