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Spatial and temporal separation of toothed whales in the western North Atlantic

Rebecca E. Cohen*, Kaitlin E. Frasier, Simone Baumann-Pickering, John A. Hildebrand

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: A diverse group of toothed whale species inhabits the pelagic habitats of the western North Atlantic, competing for overlapping prey resources. Historical data deficits have limited fundamental research into many of these species, such as establishing baselines of distribution and abundance, so their occurrence and habitat use patterns are not well characterized. Periodic cycles in activity have been reported at a range of temporal scales for odontocetes in other regions, such as seasonal movements, foraging activity modulated by lunar cycles, and diel activity patterns. A variety of spatial, temporal, and behavioral separation strategies have also been observed among predator guilds in both marine and terrestrial systems, and these may also contribute to observed spatiotemporal patterns in activity. Recently, passive acoustic data has been applied to monitor odontocete species continuously, and with improved detection and species discrimination for some cryptic species. We used a long-term passive acoustic dataset collected at sites spanning the western North Atlantic shelf-break region to quantify presence and characterize seasonal, lunar, and diel activity patterns for ten species. Our results demonstrated strong regional preferences and clear patterns of spatiotemporal separation between species with similar foraging ecology. Latitudinal shifts in seasonal presence peaks may suggest meridional seasonal migrations for some dolphin species. We also observed strong diel activity patterns which were modulated by both seasonal and lunar cycles. This study reveals complex behavioral patterns arising in response to natural cycles playing out over multiple temporal scales and provides new insights into habitat partitioning among toothed whale species.