Temporal variation in dwarf sperm whale (Kogia sima) habitat use and group size off Great Abaco Island, Bahamas

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Abstract

Dwarf sperm whales (Kogia sima) are among the most commonly stranded yet least known pelagic cetaceans. Few studies have occurred at sea, and none have quantified temporal and spatial variation in dwarf sperm whale abundance and group size. We assessed seasonal and spatial variation in dwarf sperm whale group size and abundance off Great Abaco Island, Bahamas using surveys within a 126 km2 study area with depths between 2 and 1,600 m. After correcting for survey effort and variation in sighting efficiency among sea states, we found that dwarf sperm whale group size and habitat use varied seasonally. In summer, dwarf sperm whale groups were small (median = 2.5, range = 1–8) and were found only in the two deep habitats within the study area (slope 400–900 m, deep 900–1,600 m). In winter, group sizes increased (median = 4, range = 1–12) and sightings were almost six times higher in the slope habitat, where vertical relief is highest, than other habitats. Our results suggest that studies of pelagic cetaceans and conservation plans must explicitly account for seasonal variation in group size and habitat use.

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