George John C.

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John C.

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  • Article
    Bowhead whale distribution and feeding near Barrow, Alaska, in late summer 2005–06
    (Arctic Institute of North America, 2010-06) Moore, Sue E. ; George, John C. ; Sheffield, Gay ; Bacon, Joshua ; Ashjian, Carin J.
    Aerial surveys for bowhead whales were conducted in conjunction with oceanographic sampling near Barrow, Alaska, in late summer of 2005 and 2006. In 2005, 145 whales were seen, mostly in two distinct aggregations: one (ca. 40 whales) in deep water in Barrow Canyon and the other (ca. 70 whales) in very shallow (< 10 m) water just seaward of the barrier islands. Feeding behaviours observed in the latter group included whales lying on their sides with mouths agape and groups of 5–10 whales swimming synchronously in turbid water. In 2006, 78 bowheads were seen, with ca. 40 whales feeding in dispersed groups of 3–11 whales. Feeding behaviours observed included surface skimming, echelon swimming, and synchronous diving and surfacing. Surfacing behaviour included head lunges by single animals and groups of 2–4 whales. Of 29 whales harvested at Barrow, 24 had been feeding. Euphausiids were the dominant prey in 2006 (10 of 13 stomachs), but not in 2005 (4 of 11 stomachs). Copepods were the dominant prey in the stomachs of three whales harvested near Barrow Canyon in 2005. Mysiids were the dominant prey in four stomachs, isopods in two, and amphipods in one although these taxa were not routinely captured during plankton sampling conducted in the weeks prior to the autumn harvest.
  • Article
    Coordinated transformation of the gut microbiome and lipidome of bowhead whales provides novel insights into digestion
    (Springer Nature, 2019-12-02) Miller, Carolyn A. ; Holm, Henry C. ; Horstmann, Lara ; George, John C. ; Fredricks, Helen F. ; Van Mooy, Benjamin A. S. ; Apprill, Amy
    Whale digestion plays an integral role in many ocean ecosystems. By digesting enormous quantities of lipid-rich prey, whales support their energy intensive lifestyle, but also excrete nutrients important to ocean biogeochemical cycles. Nevertheless, whale digestion is poorly understood. Gastrointestinal microorganisms play a significant role in vertebrate digestion, but few studies have examined them in whales. To investigate digestion of lipids, and the potential contribution of microbes to lipid digestion in whales, we characterized lipid composition (lipidomes) and bacterial communities (microbiotas) in 126 digesta samples collected throughout the gastrointestinal tracts of 38 bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) harvested by Alaskan Eskimos. Lipidomes and microbiotas were strongly correlated throughout the gastrointestinal tract. Lipidomes and microbiotas were most variable in the small intestine and most similar in the large intestine, where microbiota richness was greatest. Our results suggest digestion of wax esters, the primary lipids in B. mysticetus prey representing more than 80% of total dietary lipids, occurred in the mid- to distal small intestine and was correlated with specific microorganisms. Because wax esters are difficult to digest by other marine vertebrates and constitute a large reservoir of carbon in the ocean, our results further elucidate the essential roles that whales and their gastrointestinal microbiotas play in the biogeochemical cycling of carbon and nutrients in high-latitude seas.
  • Article
    Spectral reflectance of whale skin above the sea surface: a proposed measurement protocol
    (Wiley Open Access, 2020-03-10) Cubaynes, Hannah C. ; Rees, W. Gareth ; Jackson, Jennifer A. ; Moore, Michael J. ; Sformo, Todd L. ; McLellan, William A. ; Niemeyer, Misty E. ; George, John C. ; van der Hoop, Julie ; Forcada, Jaume ; Trathan, Phil N. ; Fretwell, Peter T.
    Great whales have been detected using very‐high‐resolution satellite imagery, suggesting this technology could be used to monitor whales in remote areas. However, the application of this method to whale studies is at an early developmental stage and several technical factors need to be addressed, including capacity for species differentiation and the maximum depth of detection in the water column. Both require knowledge of the spectral reflectance of the various whale species just above the sea surface, as when whales bodies break the surface of the water to breath, log or breach, there is, at times, no sea water between the whale's skin and the satellite sensor. Here we tested whether such reflectance could be measured on dead whale tissue. We measured the spectral reflectance of fresh integument collected during the bowhead subsistence harvest, and of thawed integument samples from various species obtained following strandings and stored at −20°C. We show that fresh and thawed samples of whale integument have different spectral properties. The reflectance of fresh samples was higher than the reflectance of thawed samples, as integument appears to darken after death and with time, even under frozen conditions. In this study, we present the first whale reflectance estimates (without the influence of sea water and for dead tissue). These provide a baseline for additional work, needed to advance the use of satellite imagery to monitor whales and facilitate their conservation.
  • Article
    Climate variability, oceanography, bowhead whale distribution, and Iñupiat subsistence whaling near Barrow, Alaska
    (Arctic Institute of North America, 2010-06) Ashjian, Carin J. ; Braund, Stephen R. ; Campbell, Robert G. ; George, John C. ; Kruse, Jack ; Maslowski, Wieslaw ; Moore, Sue E. ; Nicolson, Craig R. ; Okkonen, Stephen R. ; Sherr, Barry F. ; Sherr, Evelyn B. ; Spitz, Yvette H.
    The annual migration of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) past Barrow, Alaska, has provided subsistence hunting to Iñupiat for centuries. Bowheads recurrently feed on aggregations of zooplankton prey near Barrow in autumn. The mechanisms that form these aggregations, and the associations between whales and oceanography, were investigated using field sampling, retrospective analysis, and traditional knowledge interviews. Oceanographic and aerial surveys were conducted near Barrow during August and September in 2005 and 2006. Multiple water masses were observed, and close coupling between water mass type and biological characteristics was noted. Short-term variability in hydrography was associated with changes in wind speed and direction that profoundly affected plankton taxonomic composition. Aggregations of ca. 50–100 bowhead whales were observed in early September of both years at locations consistent with traditional knowledge. Retrospective analyses of records for 1984–2004 also showed that annual aggregations of whales near Barrow were associated with wind speed and direction. Euphausiids and copepods appear to be upwelled onto the Beaufort Sea shelf during Eor SEwinds. A favorable feeding environment is produced when these plankton are retained and concentrated on the shelf by the prevailing westward Beaufort Sea shelf currents that converge with the Alaska Coastal Current flowing to the northeast along the eastern edge of Barrow Canyon.
  • Article
    Ecological characteristics of core-use areas used by Bering–Chukchi–Beaufort (BCB) bowhead whales, 2006–2012
    (Elsevier, 2015-09-10) Citta, John J. ; Quakenbush, Lori T. ; Okkonen, Stephen R. ; Druckenmiller, Matthew L. ; Maslowski, Wieslaw ; Clement-Kinney, Jaclyn L. ; George, John C. ; Brower, Harry ; Small, Robert J. ; Ashjian, Carin J. ; Harwood, Lois A. ; Heide-Jørgensen, Mads Peter
    The Bering–Chukchi–Beaufort (BCB) population of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) ranges across the seasonally ice-covered waters of the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. We used locations from 54 bowhead whales, obtained by satellite telemetry between 2006 and 2012, to define areas of concentrated use, termed “core-use areas”. We identified six primary core-use areas and describe the timing of use and physical characteristics (oceanography, sea ice, and winds) associated with these areas. In spring, most whales migrated from wintering grounds in the Bering Sea to the Cape Bathurst polynya, Canada (Area 1), and spent the most time in the vicinity of the halocline at depths <75 m, which are within the euphotic zone, where calanoid copepods ascend following winter diapause. Peak use of the polynya occurred between 7 May and 5 July; whales generally left in July, when copepods are expected to descend to deeper depths. Between 12 July and 25 September, most tagged whales were located in shallow shelf waters adjacent to the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula, Canada (Area 2), where wind-driven upwelling promotes the concentration of calanoid copepods. Between 22 August and 2 November, whales also congregated near Point Barrow, Alaska (Area 3), where east winds promote upwelling that moves zooplankton onto the Beaufort shelf, and subsequent relaxation of these winds promoted zooplankton aggregations. Between 27 October and 8 January, whales congregated along the northern shore of Chukotka, Russia (Area 4), where zooplankton likely concentrated along a coastal front between the southeastward-flowing Siberian Coastal Current and northward-flowing Bering Sea waters. The two remaining core-use areas occurred in the Bering Sea: Anadyr Strait (Area 5), where peak use occurred between 29 November and 20 April, and the Gulf of Anadyr (Area 6), where peak use occurred between 4 December and 1 April; both areas exhibited highly fractured sea ice. Whales near the Gulf of Anadyr spent almost half of their time at depths between 75 and 100 m, usually near the seafloor, where a subsurface front between cold Anadyr Water and warmer Bering Shelf Water presumably aggregates zooplankton. The amount of time whales spent near the seafloor in the Gulf of Anadyr, where copepods (in diapause) and, possibly, euphausiids are expected to aggregate provides strong evidence that bowhead whales are feeding in winter. The timing of bowhead spring migration corresponds with when zooplankton are expected to begin their spring ascent in April. The core-use areas we identified are also generally known from other studies to have high densities of whales and we are confident these areas represent the majority of important feeding areas during the study (2006–2012). Other feeding areas, that we did not detect, likely existed during the study and we expect core-use area boundaries to shift in response to changing hydrographic conditions.