Alternate Title

An Unusual Reaction and Other Observations of Sperm Whales Near Fixed-Wing Aircraft

Document Type

Short Communication


Reported behavioral reactions by sperm whales to aircraft are sparse, highly variable, and largely anecdotal as summarized below. Observers since the whaling era began have noted that sperm whales tend to be skittish (Whitehead 2003). When documented, sperm whale reactions to both planes and helicopters range from no reaction (Clarke 1956, Gambell 1968, Green et al. 1992) to reactions such as increased surface intervals and dramatic behavioral changes (Clarke 1956, Fritts et al. 1983, Mullin et al. 1991, Würsig et al. 1998, Richter et al. 2003, 2006). Given the lack of supporting data for either case, it is important that these types of data are collected and consolidated into a cohesive document. Therefore, the specific objectives of our paper are to report our visual observations of sperm whale reactions to straight-line aircraft fly-bys (i.e., passes), to report a unique observation of a recognized “stress behavioral reaction” exhibited by sperm whales during an overhead circling by small fixed-wing aircraft, and to provide a summary review of published related studies.

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