Environ Monit Assess. 2022 Oct 18;194(Suppl 1):743. doi: 10.1007/s10661-022-10017-8.
Okhotsk or western gray whales feed in summer along the northeastern coast of Sakhalin Island, Russia, a region with oil and gas extraction facilities. Seismic surveys increased sound levels in the nearshore feeding area in 2015 for part of the summer, potentially displacing whales from preferred foraging habitat or reducing foraging efficiency. Since lost foraging opportunities might lead to vital rate effects on this endangered species, detailed benthic surveys were conducted to characterize benthic community biomass patterns and spatial and temporal differences. Benthic biomass demonstrated strong spatial-temporal interactions indicating that prey biomass differences among locations were dependent on sampling period. Of greatest interest, Amphipoda biomass declined from June to October in the northern and southern portions of the nearshore study area but increased in the middle and Actinopterygii biomass increased in the northern area in mid-summer. Water depth and sediment type were significant covariates with community structure, and water depth strongly covaried with bivalve biomass. Total average prey biomass was ~ 100 g/m2 within the nearshore feeding area with no evidence of reduced biomass among sampling periods or locations, although there were fewer amphipods in the south. Multi-prey investigations provide a stronger basis for inferences than single-prey studies of amphipods when gray whales feed on diverse prey. Benthic community-level variability was moderate to high as would be expected for a shallow-water nearshore area. Overall, spatial and temporal changes in dominant macrofauna biomass reflected small to medium-sized effects that were well within the natural boundaries expected for benthic communities.