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Keywords:

  • sperm whale sound;
  • Physeter macrocephalus;
  • remote acoustic survey;
  • automatic detection;
  • autonomous hydrophone

Abstract

An acoustic survey for sperm whales was conducted in the Gulf of Alaska. Six autonomous hydrophones continuously recorded sound signals below 500 Hz from October 1999 to May 2001. After recovery, recordings were processed using an automatic process to detect usual clicks of sperm whales. The detection algorithm equalized background noise, summed the data in a frequency band, and then used autocorrelation to detect the whales' highly regular clicks. Detections were checked manually, revealing that 98% of detections did contain clicks. Results indicate that sperm whales are present in the Gulf of Alaska year-round; this result extends what is known from whaling data, which were gathered principally in summer. Sperm whales were more common in summer than winter by a factor of roughly two, and occurred less often at the westernmost site surveyed (52°N, 157°W) than elsewhere in the Gulf. This is the first study of sperm whales based exclusively on remote acoustic sensing. This methodology is feasible because sperm whale clicks extend to frequencies (∼100 Hz) low enough to be recorded by low-sample-rate instruments that operate continuously, and because the detection algorithm has a low false-detection rate. The methodology may be replicated to facilitate comparisons between different time periods and geographic regions.