Alternate Title

Ship and Satellite Studies of Mesoscale Circulation and Sperm Whale Habitats in the Northeast Gulf of Mexico During GulfCet II


Eighty-three encounters with sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) occurred on two cruises that made expendable bathythermograph + conductivity-temperature-depth surveys of cyclone-anticyclone eddy pairs in the Northeast Gulf of Mexico (NEGOM). In late summer 1996, 41 sightings of sperm whales were made and 10 acoustic contacts were registered. Of these 51 encounters, 90% were in a cyclonic area of lower than average dynamic height offshore that was surveyed from space by near-real-time altimetric sea surface height anomaly and then mapped in high resolution with shipboard measurements or within 100 km of SW Pass of the Mississippi River. In midsummer 1997, 23 sightings and nine acoustic contacts were made. Of these 32 encounters, 81% were in an offshore cyclonic area of lower than average dynamic height or within 100 km of the mouth of the Mississippi River. Time series animation of the 1996 and 1997 altimetric data indicated these cyclones are typically associated with Loop Current excursions into the NEGOM and that the two cyclones we surveyed had spun up 4-6 mo previous to our fieldwork. Although cyclones in the NEGOM are temporally persistent, their geographic location is spatially variable: the cyclone surveyed in 1996 was centered 150-200 km south and east of the Mississippi River delta in water 2-3 km deep, whereas that surveyed in 1997 was centered farther east in water 2-3 km deep over DeSoto Canyon. Sperm whales appear to have affinity for cyclonic eddies because the largest numbers of encounters with sperm whales also shifted east in 1997 compared with 1996.