Polar Biology

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 149–163 | Cite as

Pre-winter distribution and habitat characteristics of polar cod (Boreogadus saida) in southeastern Beaufort Sea

  • Delphine BenoitEmail author
  • Yvan Simard
  • Louis Fortier
Original Paper


Polar cod was shown to form dense under-ice winter aggregations at depth in the Amundsen Gulf (southeastern Beaufort Sea). In this paper, we verify the premises of the aggregation mechanism by determining the distribution and habitat characteristics of polar cod prior to the formation of winter aggregations. Multifrequency split-beam acoustic data collected in October–November 2003 revealed that polar cod split into two distinct layers. Age-0 polar cod formed an epipelagic layer between 0 and ~60 m depth without any clear large-scale biomass trend. In contrast, adult polar cod tended to distribute into an offshore mesopelagic layer between ~200 and 400 m that shoaled into a denser (1–37 g m−2) benthopelagic layer on sloping bottoms (between 150 and 600-m isobaths) along the Mackenzie shelf and into the Amundsen Gulf basin. Concentrations peaked in the Amundsen Gulf where estimated total biomass reached ~250 kt. Both age-0 and adult polar cod distributed in the warmer waters (>−1.4 °C). We hypothesise that polar cod concentration over slopes is governed by the combined actions of (1) local currents concentrating both depth-keeping zooplankton and polar cod at the shelf-break and basin slopes and (2) trophic association with these predictable topographically trapped aggregations of zooplankton prey. During freeze-up, these slope concentrations of polar cod are thought to constitute the main source of the observed dense under-ice winter aggregations. The hypothesis of active short-distance displacements combined with prevailing mean currents is retained as the likely aggregation mechanism.


Polar cod Shelf-break Amundsen Gulf Mesopelagic Migration Biomass estimate 



This study was conducted within the framework of the Canadian Arctic Shelf Exchange Study (CASES), a Research Network funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canada Foundation for Innovation. We thank the officers and crew of the CCGS Amundsen for enthusiastic and professional assistance at sea, and the team of technicians, assistants and colleagues who contributed to the collection of acoustic data. Special thanks to Y. Gratton for the validated physical data and Caroline Bouchard for photographs of polar cod juveniles. This is a contribution to the program of Québec-Océan, the Canada Research Chair on the Response of Marine Arctic Ecosystems to Climate Warming at Université Laval, and the Fisheries and Oceans Canada Research Chair in Underwater Acoustics Applied to Ecosystem and Marine Mammals at ISMER-UQAR.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Département de biologieUniversité LavalQuebecCanada
  2. 2.Institut des Sciences de la MerUniversité du Québec à RimouskiRimouskiCanada
  3. 3.Institut Maurice-LamontagnePêches et Océans CanadaMont-JoliCanada

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