Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) sighting rate in the vicinity of a thermal front on the eastern boundary of a Gulf Stream warm-core ring was five times greater than the pooled rate in the remainder of the study area. No sperm whales were sighted within the ring away from frontal boundaries. Sperm whale distribution patterns associated with the ring were examined using hydrographic and zooplankton data.
Hydrographic structure and zooplankton densities and community composition differed between the high-use region and the remainder of the study area, suggesting that mesoscale patterns in the biological and physical environments regulate sperm whale habitat usage. Satellite thermal images indicated cool water associated with the eastern front was shelf or slope water entrained from the Scotian Shelf to the north.
Interaction of the warm-core ring with the shelf or slope water is probably indirectly responsible for greater sperm whale presence on the eastern boundary of the ring, providing suitable habitat for their squid prey. Entrainment of shelf water by warm-core rings occurs frequently, providing potential sperm whale habitat in the vicinity of rings. Surveys of warm-core rings and other Gulf Stream features are needed to improve accuracy of sperm whale population estimates.