ASA 128th Meeting - Austin, Texas - 1994 Nov 28 .. Dec 02

3aAO2. A change in sperm whale (Physeter macroephalus) distribution correlated to seismic surveys in the Gulf of Mexico.

Bruce R. Mate

Hatfield Marine Sci. Ctr., Oregon State Univ., Newport, OR 97365

Kathleen M. Stafford

Oregon State University, Newport, OR 97365

Donald K. Ljungblad

Elk Mountain, WY 82324

From 7 to 29 June 1993, vessel surveys for sperm whales were conducted in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast. Ninety sperm whales were seen in water 600 to 1400 m deep. On four of the first five survey days, whales were found routinely in an area 100 km S.E. of the Mississippi River before a seismic survey operation began (0.092 whales/km). Within the seismic operations area, whale abundance changed significantly to 0.038 whales/km during the first two days and then to 0.0 whales/km for the following five days (p value <0.001). During the first two days of seismic activity, whales were only seen around the periphery of the seismic area. Survey effort for the last 5 days (920 km) and revealed only one group of four animals 61 km S.W. of the seismic survey area and also 56 km N.E. from another active seismic survey. Although the observation of seismic survey activity was serendipitous, it was highly correlated to numbers of sperm whales. This relationship deserves further investigation. If validated, additional efforts will be needed to identify areas used by sperm whales and assure that the effects of simultaneous seismic surveys do not overlap and prevent sperm whales from using important habitat.