ESR prepress abstract  -  DOI:

Geographic and temporal patterns in the acoustic detection of sperm whales Physeter macrocephalus in the central and western North Pacific Ocean

Karlina P. Merkens*, Anne E. Simonis, Erin M. Oleson


ABSTRACT: The easily identifiable high amplitude echolocation signals produced by sperm whales Physeter macrocephalus make the species ideal for long-term passive acoustic monitoring. Sperm whale signals were manually identified in the recordings from High-frequency Acoustic Recording Packages monitoring 13 deep-water locations across the central and western North Pacific Ocean from 2005 to 2013, constituting the longest passive acoustic study of sperm whales to date. The species was detected at all of the sites, with the highest detection rate at Ladd Seamount (>18% of analyzed periods), and the lowest rates at equatorial sites (<1% of analyzed periods). Generalized additive models (GAMs) and generalized estimating equations (GEEs) were used to produce explanatory models to assess temporal and geographic patterns. The model variables included diel phase, lunar day, day of the year, year, and site. The site-specific variability in detection rates was high across the North Pacific, but there were also common patterns, including a seasonal trend, with decreased detections during the summer or fall, and a diel trend, with increased detections at night. There appeared to be a seasonal movement pattern, with minimum detection rates occurring later in the year at more northerly sites. The nocturnal pattern was seen across all datasets, but was not strong at equatorial locations. Although lunar cycles were important at many sites, there was no consistent trend at any spatial scale. Overall, this analysis confirms the broad distribution of sperm whales across the North Pacific and highlights the subtle temporal patterns in their acoustic activity, which may be related to shifts in animal behavior or movement.