ESR prepress abstract  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00867

Spatial and seasonal patterns in acoustic detections of sperm whales Physeter macrocephalus along the continental slope in the western North Atlantic Ocean

Joy E. Stanistreet*, Douglas P. Nowacek, Joel T. Bell, Danielle M. Cholewiak, John A. Hildebrand, Lynne E. W. Hodge, Sofie M. Van Parijs, Andrew J. Read

*Email: joy.stanistreet@duke.edu

ABSTRACT: The distribution and seasonal movements of sperm whales Physeter macrocephalus are poorly understood in the western North Atlantic Ocean, despite a long history of human exploitation of the species. Cetacean surveys in this region are typically conducted during the summer, when weather conditions are amenable for visual observation, resulting in a seasonal bias in species occurrence data. In the present study, we conducted multi-year passive acoustic monitoring to assess year-round sperm whale occurrence along the continental slope between Florida and New England, USA. Between 2011 and 2015, we collected 2037 days of recordings using bottom-mounted recorders deployed at 5 sites. We analyzed these recordings for sperm whale echolocation clicks, which were detected commonly between New England and North Carolina, but infrequently off the coast of Florida. In the northern half of the study region, we observed distinct seasonal patterns in the daily prevalence of sperm whale clicks, with a winter peak in occurrence off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, followed by an increase later in the spring at sites further north. South of Cape Hatteras, seasonal patterns were less apparent. We detected sperm whale clicks during all hours of the day throughout the study area, and did not observe strong diel patterns. Overall, our results provide a comprehensive year-round baseline on the occurrence of sperm whales across multiple recording sites, demonstrating the utility of passive acoustic monitoring to assess patterns in sperm whale occurrence across broad spatial and temporal scales.