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Keywords:

  • cetacean;
  • habitat;
  • Gulf of Mexico

Abstract

The physical habitat of cetaceans found along the continental slope in the north-central and western Gulf of Mexico was characterized from shipboard sighting data, simultaneous hydrographic measurements, and satellite remote sensing. The study area was encompassed by the longitude of the Florida-Alabama border (87.5°W), the southernmost latitude of the Texas-Mexico border (26.0°N), and the 100-m and 2,000-m isobaths. Shipboard surveys were conducted seasonally for two years from April 1992 to May 1994. A total of 21,350 km of transect was visually sampled in an area of 154,621 km2.

Sighting localities of species in the study area were differentiated most clearly with bottom depth. Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) were consistently found in the shallowest water on the continental shelf and along the shelf break. In addition, the bottom depth gradient (sea floor slope) was less for Atlantic spotted dolphins than for any other species. Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) were found most commonly along the upper slope in water significantly deeper than that for Atlantic spotted dolphins. All the other species and species categories were found over deeper bottom depths; these were Risso's dolphins (Grampus griseus), short-finned pilot whales (Glob-icephala macrorhynchus), pygmy/dwarf sperm whales (Kogia spp.), roughtoothed dolphins (Steno bredanensis), spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris), sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus), striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba), Mesoplodon spp., pantropical spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata), Clymene dolphins (Stenella clymene) and unidentified beaked whales (Ziphiidae). Risso's dolphins and short-finned pilot whales occurred along the upper slope and, as a subgroup, were significantly different from striped dolphins, Mesoplodon spp., pantropical spotted dolphins, Clymene dolphins, and unidentified beaked whales, which occurred in the deepest water. Pygmy/dwarf sperm whales, rough-toothed dolphins, spinner dolphins, and sperm whales occurred at intermediate depths between these two subgroups and overlapped them.