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Soundings Archive

MMS and NMFS Scientists Study Gulf of Mexico Sperm Whales
The U.S. Minerals Management Service and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service are collaborating on a $550,000 MMS-funded "Sperm Whale Acoustic Prey Study." This joint study is part of a cooperative interagency agreement between e MMS and NMFS. They hope the study will provide a better understanding of how the sperm whale, an endangered species, survives in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The study is being conducted aboard the NMFS ship Pisces. The Pisces is a new state-of-the-art 208-foot fisheries survey vessel that features quiet-hull technology. It carries a crew of 21 and up to 15 scientists. The research team aboard the Pisces is comprised of scientists from MMS, NMFS' southeast and northeast fisheries science centers, and the Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology office.

The first of the study's three voyages was completed on February 10, 2010. The second is underway. The first and second voyages departed from NMFS' Southeast Fisheries Science Center laboratory in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Study results will characterize the potential prey of sperm whales and assess the prey's abundance, distribution, and diversity. Trawling will take place in the northern Gulf of Mexico in water depths ranging from 3,200 to 8,600 feet. As part of the study, MMS and NMFS scientists will also collect data on a small isolated population of Bryde's whales, the Gulf's only resident baleen whale.

MMS has sponsored numerous studies of sperm whales. One such study included the six-year Sperm Whale Seismic Study. The MMS-funded SWSS study provided new information about sperm whales residing in the Gulf, and about their responses to human-created sounds. The "Sperm Whale Acoustic Prey Study" which is currently underway will address information gaps identified in SWSS.

  • Click here to read NMFS' press releases website about the sperm whale prey study

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