According to Dr. Mate, sperm whales are one of the most interesting whale species. They have been known to dive for one hour to a depth of two miles and feed on giant squid. These whales also selectively feed on fishermen's longlines in Alaska and may dramatically affect the economic welfare of surrounding fisheries. OSU's Marine Mammal Program hopes to investigate some solutions to these problems.
Poor weather conditions and unexpected distribution of sperm whales combined to make this year's Sperm Whale Seismic Survey (SWSS) cruise less successful than previous years; however, the dedication of the research teams allowed us to place a total of eight tags. Data from the 2004 tags supported the data collected in 2002 and 2003. We compiled the data from the complete three-year project and added it to the SWSS synthesis report, which was then submitted to Minerals Management Service, the sponsoring agency. We also presented our findings at an Informational Transfer Meeting in January 2005, attended by representatives of Minerals Management Service, the Office of Naval Research, oil and gas interests, Texas A&M University, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and other scientists who had participated in one or more of the cruises.
Among other findings, we learned that Gulf of Mexico sperm whales do not limit their range to the Gulf. One of our tagged animals traveled out into the Atlantic Ocean, venturing as far as Charleston, South Carolina before turning back as it ran into the edges of Hurricane Isabel. We also saw two very different types of movements among tagged whales: some stayed relatively close to the shelf, while others ventured into deeper water and ranged over much of the Gulf.
The SWSS project was successful enough to warrant a two-year extension of funding, and another cruise took place in June 2005.