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Keywords:

  • Risso's dolphin;
  • Grampus griseus;
  • Gulf of Mexico;
  • habitat;
  • physiography;
  • depth;
  • depth gradient

Abstract

The distribution of Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus) was examined with respect to two physiographic variables, water depth and depth gradient (sea floor slope), in the northern Gulf of Mexico, using shipboard and aerial survey data collected from 1992 to 1994. Univariate x2 analyses demonstrated that Risso's dolphins are distributed non-uniformly with respect to both depth and depth gradient. A bivariate analysis of the shipboard data indicated that Risso's dolphins utilize the steep sections of the upper continental slope in the northern Gulf of Mexico. This narrow core habitat is in waters bounded by the 350-m and 975-m1 isobaths with depth gradients greater than 24 m per 1.1 km and consists of only 2% of the surface area of the entire Gulf of Mexico. Sighting rates inside this region were nearly 5 and 6 times the average for the shipboard and aerial surveys, respectively. Of the groups sighted outside this region, 40% (shipboard) and 73% (aerial) were encountered within 5 km of it. Since it is unlikely that the physiography alone can attract dolphins, oceanographic mechanisms that may concentrate prey along the steep upper continental slope are discussed. The implications of this distribution, including potential prey species, foraging strategies, and impacts of proposed mineral exploration and development, are also considered.