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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 508:247-260 (2014)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10851

Habitat preferences of two deep-diving cetacean species in the northern Ligurian Sea

Paola Tepsich1,2,*, Massimiliano Rosso1, Patrick N. Halpin3,4, Aurélie Moulins1

1CIMA Research Foundation, via Magliotto 2, 17100 Savona, Italy
2DIBRIS, Università degli studi di Genova, viale Causa 13, 16145 Genova, Italy
3Duke University Marine Laboratory, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA
4Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708-0328, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: We used generalized additive models (GAMs) as exploratory habitat models for describing the distribution of 2 deep-diving species, Cuvier’s beaked whale Ziphius cavirostris Cuvier, 1823 and sperm whale Physeter catodon Linnaeus, 1758, in the Pelagos Sanctuary (northwestern Mediterranean). We analyzed data collected from research surveys and whale-watching activities during summer months from 2004 to 2007. The dataset encompassed 147 Cuvier’s beaked whale sightings and 52 sperm whale sightings. We defined and applied a post hoc workflow to the data, to minimize false absence bias arising from the unique ecology of the species and the lack of a dedicated sampling design. We calculated a novel topographic predictor, distance from the canyon axis, as a covariate for use in the habitat model. Given the complex topography of the area, the analysis was performed on a high-resolution spatial grid (1 km). Our methods allowed effective use of the non-dedicated sampling dataset for building habitat models of elusive and cryptic species (Cuvier’s beaked whale final model sensitivity = 0.88 and specificity = 0.84; sperm whale final model sensitivity = 0.65 and specificity = 0.77). The GAM results confirmed the preference for submarine canyons for both species and also highlighted the importance of the deeper portion of the Ligurian basin, especially for Cuvier’s beaked whale. Habitat overlap nevertheless is resolved by a well-defined spatial partitioning of the area, with sperm whale occupying the western part and Cuvier’s beaked whale the central and eastern parts.


KEY WORDS: Cuvier’s beaked whale · Sperm whale · GAM · Habitat modeling · Northwestern Mediterranean Sea


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Cite this article as: Tepsich P, Rosso M, Halpin PN, Moulins A (2014) Habitat preferences of two deep-diving cetacean species in the northern Ligurian Sea. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 508:247-260. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10851

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