ESTIMATES OF SPERM WHALE ABUNDANCE IN THE NORTHEASTERN TEMPERATE PACIFIC FROM A COMBINED ACOUSTIC AND VISUAL SURVEY

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Abstract

We estimate the abundance of sperm whales in a 7.8 million km2 study area in the eastern temperate North Pacific using data from a ship-based acoustic and visual line-transect survey in spring 1997. Sperm whales were detected acoustically using a hydrophone array towed at 15 km/h and 100 m depth. The hydrophone array was towed for 14,500 km, and locations were estimated acoustically for 45 distinct sperm whale groups. Whales producing slow clicks (>2-s period) were detected at greater distance (up to 37 km), and the estimation of effective strip widths was stratified based on initial click period. Visual survey effort (using 25° binoculars and naked eyes) covered 8,100 km in Beaufort sea states 0–5 and resulted in only eight sightings. The effective strip width for visual detections was estimated from previous surveys conducted using the same methods and similar vessels in the eastern Pacific. Estimated sperm whale abundance in the study area was not significantly different between acoustic (32,100, CV = 0.36) and visual (26,300, CV = 0.81) detection methods. Acoustic techniques substantially increased the number of sperm whales detected on this line-transect survey by increasing the range of detection and allowing nighttime surveys; however, visual observations were necessary for estimating group size.

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