Diurnal variation in harbour porpoise detection – potential implications for management

L D Williamson, K L Brookes, B E Scott, I M Graham, P M Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
11 Downloads (Pure)


Robust information on animal distributions and foraging behaviour are required to target management and conservation measures for protected species and populations. Visual survey data are commonly used to model these distributions. However, because visual data can only be collected in daylight, modelled distributions and consequent management actions may fail to identify or protect important nocturnal habitats. We explore this issue using data from the Moray Firth, Scotland, where visual survey data have previously been used to characterise habitat use and distribution patterns of harbour porpoise. Marine predators such as harbour porpoise have a widespread distribution, are highly mobile, and are known to exhibit behavioural variation in relation to diel cycles. Here, we use long-term passive acoustic data which revealed habitat-specific differences in diel patterns of detection. Harbour porpoise were detected consistently during night and day in sandy areas with peaks in detection around sunrise and sunset, and at night in muddy areas. Detections also varied with depth, with the greatest proportion of detections during day recorded in shallower sandy areas, and the most at night recorded in deeper muddy areas. The proportion of detections with foraging buzzes detected increased slightly during the night and in muddy habitats. These findings suggest that the importance of muddy habitats could be underestimated when using visual survey data alone. This highlights the value of using a combination of visual and acoustic methods both to characterise species distribution and to support efforts to develop appropriate spatio-temporal management of key habitats.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-232
Number of pages10
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Early online date27 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2017


  • phocoena phocoena
  • C-POD
  • passive acoustic monitoring
  • management
  • distribution
  • modelling


Dive into the research topics of 'Diurnal variation in harbour porpoise detection – potential implications for management'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this