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Cruise results, NOAA ship Gordon Gunter cruise GU12-02 (67), 7 June - 6 August 2012 : Southeast Gulf of Mexico sperm whale study
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    Southeast Gulf of Mexico sperm whale study ; NOAA ship Gordon Gunter cruise GU12-02 (67), 7 June - 6 August 2012 ;
  • Description:
    "Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) are endangered marine mammals occurring year-round and widely distributed with in the oceanic Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) (waters >200 m deep). While the population is broadly distributed , past surveys have documented the presence of t wo distinct areas of concentration: 1) near the Mississippi River Delta (northern Gulf), and 2) west of the Dry Tortugas, Florida (southeastern Gulf; Maze-Foley and Mullin 2006). The concentration of animals in the northern Gulf has been intensively studied during the last decade, and is apparently associated with localized increases in secondary production due to either off-shelf transport of high productivity surface water and/or localized upwelling associated with mesoscale circulation (Jochens et al. 2008). Unlike the northern Gulf aggregation, little is known about the southeastern Gulf sperm whales. This concentration of animals has been observed in multiple seasons in a relatively localized area associated with steep bathymetry and a persistent eddy on the southeastern corner of the Loop Current (Mullin et al. 2003, SEFSC unpublished data). Prior field observations suggest that the southeastern Gulf aggregation is composed of females with young calves and juvenile whales, indicating that this area may be an important calving habitat for Gulf sperm whales. The relationship between this southeastern Gulf aggregation and the northern Gulf aggregation is unknown. The primary objective of this project was to assess the abundance, habitat and spatial distribution of sperm whales of the southeastern Gulf by means of visual and acoustic monitoring, biopsying sampling and deployment of satellite tags. Secondary objectives included collection of data and samples from other cetacean species encountered throughout the study area. This project was conducted jointly by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and NOAA Fisheries' Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC). The data will be used to support environmental assessments associated with potential offshore energy exploration projects in the south eastern Gulf and to improve understanding of potential critical habitat areas for the endangered Northern Gulf sperm whale population"--Background and project objectives.

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