MARINE MAMMAL RESEARCH UNIT - UBC

Benia Nowak

PhD Student

E-mail: bernadettenowak@gmail.com

Co-supervisors:

Dr. Andrew Trites (University of British Columbia), Dr. Kit Kovacs (Norwegian Polar Institute), Dr. Christian Lydersen (Norwegian Polar Institute)

Education:

(2019) MSC Biology, Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia)

(2015) BSC Biology, Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario)

Research Interests:

Movement ecology, foraging ecology, biological oceanography, statistical ecology, biologging, marine mammal science

PhD Research:

In the marine environment, heterogeneous oceanographic conditions result in a three-dimensionally patchy distribution of prey available to upper-trophic level predators. By concentrating foraging efforts within these patches, individuals may improve both foraging success and efficiency, influencing reproductive success and survival (i.e., fitness). While seasonal and sex-specific differences in foraging behaviours have been shown in other populations of this species, little is known about the seasonal foraging ecology or diet of the Spitsbergen stock. The primary objective of this project is to improve our understanding of the foraging ecology of Spitsbergen bowhead whales and explore the influence of environmental conditions. The following research questions will be addressed:

(1) How are the foraging patterns of Spitsbergen bowhead whales influenced by environmental conditions and how do they vary on an individual level?

(2): Do intrinsic and/or extrinsic factors influence the propensity for individuals to leave a profitable foraging patch?

(3): How do the relationship between habitat characteristics and dive depth differ between bowhead whale stocks across the Arctic?

(4): Are there differences in trophic level and ecological niche breadth between bowhead whales and narwhals inhabiting the same region and do these relationships differ by sex?

 

Scholarships Awarded:

NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship – Doctoral (2022-2025)

Nova Scotia Graduate Scholarship (2016-2017)

 

Publications:

Nowak, B.V.R., W.D. Bowen, D.C. Lidgard, and S.J. Iverson. 2021. A bio-optical model for the estimation of chlorophyll-a using animal-borne instruments in an optically complex continental shelf ecosystem. Marine Ecology Progress Series 169:19-30. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13883.

Nowak, B.V.R., W.D. Bowen, D.C. Lidgard, and S.J. Iverson. 2020. Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) as bioprobes: Fine-scale measurements of oceanographic properties using an instrumented large marine predator. Progress in Oceanography 189. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pocean.2020.102453.

Nowak, B.V.R., W.D. Bowen, K. Whoriskey, D.C. Lidgard, J. Mills Flemming, and S.J. Iverson. 2020. Foraging behaviour of a continental shelf marine predator, the grey seal (Halichoerus grypus), is associated with in situ, subsurface oceanographic conditions. Movement Ecology 8:41. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40462-020-00225-7.