Small cetaceans that frequent the Barents Sea include bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, white-sided dolphins and white-beaked dolphins. All but the latter occur in the southern Barents Sea, particularly along the shelf break and over oceanic banks and ridges, but must be considered vagrants in the region. White-beaked dolphins are the only small cetacean species that routinely occupies the region more broadly.
White-beaked dolphins dominate in terms of abundance, among dolphin species, throughout the Barents Sea, and are the most frequently observed small cetacean on joint Russian-Norwegian ecosystem surveys of the Barents Sea. During the period 2003-2007, these dolphins were mainly observed in southern and central areas of the Barents Sea in association with large schools of blue whiting (Micromesistius poutassou). More recently, the distribution of this species has shifted northwards and they are now often observed in association with capelin (Fall and Skern-Mauritzen, 2014). Declining abundance of blue whiting, and the northward shift in distribution of alternative prey species such as capelin, has likely contributed to the change in distribution of white beaked dolphins.
Along with declining sea ice coverage and warmer temperatures in coming decades, increases are expected in the productivity of the pelagic community in the Barents Sea; it is likely that this will result in increased abundances of migratory cetaceans in the area and longer periods of seasonal residence. The summer distribution of these animals is largely determined by prey availability. The increasingly long seasonal presence of migratory whales in the High North will likely increase competitive overlap between migrants and endemic Arctic marine mammal species (Kovacs et al., 2011a; Meier et al., 2014).