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Marine Mammal Occurrence, Distribution and Behavior in the Inland Waters of Washington from Aerial Surveys

Marine Mammal Occurrence, Distribution and Behavior in the Inland Waters of Washington from Aerial Surveys, 2013-2016
  • Behavior
  • Natural history


The inland waters of Washington State are inhabited regularly by 10 species of marine mammals. Updated and comprehensive information regarding marine mammal occurrence, distribution, and behavior in the area is critical when addressing local anthropogenic impact, management, and conservation concerns. We conducted a total of 16,198 km of observation effort during systematic line-transect surveys from a high-wing, twin-engine airplane throughout Puget Sound in all 4 seasons during 2013 to 2016, and in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juan Islands area during summer 2014 and spring 2015. Ten marine mammal species were confirmed across 5772 groups of an estimated 10,673 individuals sighted, including some seasonal patterns of occurrence. The most commonly sighted species in terms of individuals were Harbor Seals (n = 8012), Harbor Porpoises (n = 2168), California Sea Lions (n = 238) and Steller Sea Lions (n = 77). The most common behavior states documented across species among the total 5670 groups were rest (73%) and medium travel (16%); probable foraging was observed among 13 groups (0.2%) and included Gray Whale foraging pits in tidal mudflats. Potential behavioral reactions to the aircraft were rare (0.3% of total individuals), primarily by Harbor Seals and Harbor Porpoises. Results of these surveys represent the most comprehensive up-to-date information available on marine mammal occurrence, distribution, and behavior across seasons in the Puget Sound region.

Smultea, M.A., Jefferson, T.A. and Lane, R.S., 2022. Marine mammal occurrence, distribution, and behavior in the inland waters of Washington from aerial surveys, 2013–2016. Northwestern Naturalist, 103(2), pp.118-135.

natural history
Bekah Lane

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