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Ocean nomads: Distribution and movements of sperm whales in the North Pacific shown by whaling data and Discovery marks

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Corresponding author (e-mail: sally.mizroch@noaa.gov).

Abstract

We investigated the distribution and movements of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) in the North Pacific by analyzing whaling data and movement data of whales marked with Discovery marks. Prior studies suggested that there were discrete “stocks” of sperm whales, assuming that the intervals between historical areas of concentration indicated subpopulation boundaries. Our analyses clearly refute this assumption: whaling and marking data suggest no obvious divisions between separate demes or stocks within the North Pacific. Sperm whales appear to be nomadic and show widespread movements between areas of concentration, with documented movements of over 5,000 km, time spans between marking and recovery over 20 yr, and ranges that cover many thousand km2. Males appear to range more widely than females. Sperm whales likely travel in response to geographical and temporal variations in the abundance of medium- and large-sized pelagic squids, their primary prey. Our analyses demonstrate that males and females concentrated seasonally in the Subtropical Frontal Zone (ca. 28ºN–34ºN) and the Subarctic Frontal Zone (ca. 40ºN–43ºN), and males also concentrated seasonally near the Aleutian Islands and along the Bering Sea shelf edge. It appears that the sperm whales targeted by the pelagic whalers range widely across this ocean basin.

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