Modelling sperm whale habitat preference: a novel approach combining transect and follow data

Pirotta, E., Matthiopoulos, J. , MacKenzie, M., Scott-Hayward, L. and Rendell, L. (2011) Modelling sperm whale habitat preference: a novel approach combining transect and follow data. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 436, pp. 257-272. (doi: 10.3354/meps09236)

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Abstract

Sperm whale Physeter macrocephalus habitat preferences are still poorly understood in the Mediterranean, despite the population being classified as ‘Endangered’ by the IUCN. Techniques to make the best use of multiple data sources are important in improving this situation. This work provides a detailed evaluation of sperm whale distribution and habitat use around the Balearic Islands using a novel analytical framework that combines transect and follow data while accounting for any autocorrelation present. During dedicated research cruises (2003 to 2008), sperm whales were located by listening at regular intervals along a search track and subsequently followed acoustically. Sperm whales were encountered 56 times and followed for periods ranging from a few hours to 3 d. Logistic Generalized Additive Models were used to model the probability of whale presence across the study area as a function of environmental variables, and Generalized Estimating Equations were used to account for autocorrelation. The results suggest that sperm whales do not use the region uniformly and that topography plays a key role in shaping their distribution. Moreover, solitary individuals were found to use the habitat differently from groups. This segregation appeared to be driven by water temperature and might reflect different needs or intraspecific competition. By shedding light on sperm whale habitat preference in such a critical area, this study represents an important step towards the implementation of conservation measures for this population.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Matthiopoulos, Professor Jason
Authors: Pirotta, E., Matthiopoulos, J., MacKenzie, M., Scott-Hayward, L., and Rendell, L.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
Journal Name:Marine Ecology Progress Series
ISSN:0171-8630
ISSN (Online):1616-1599
Published Online:31 August 2011

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