Foraging dives of sperm whales in the north-western Mediterranean Sea

Alexandre Gannier, Estelle Petiau, Violaine Dulau, Luke Rendell

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Oceanic odontocetes rely on echolocation to forage on pelagic or benthic prey, but their feeding ecology is difficult to study. We studied sperm whale foraging dives during summer in the north-western Mediterranean, using visual and passive acoustic observations. Clicking and creaking activities were recorded during dives of focal whales, at distances <3000 m using a towed hydrophone and DAT recorder. A total of 52 sperm whales were recorded over at least one full dive cycle. Data were obtained for 156 complete dives in total, including sequences of up to nine consecutive dives. Various dive and environmental variables were entered in multiple linear regression and principal components analysis, as well as estimated mass of whales. Creak rate was 0.80 creak/minute on average, with moderate variance. Bigger whales tended to dive longer at greater depths (as suggested by ascent durations), and emitted more creaks during a dive: 20.2 creaks/dive on average for individuals <24 tons, compared to 25.6 creaks/dive for animals >24 tons of estimated mass. For individual whales, creak rates did not vary significantly with size (range 0.78–0.80 creak/minute), but decreased with time of the day, and increased for shorter foraging phases. For different dives, higher creak rates were also observed earlier in the day, and linked to shorter foraging phases and surface durations. Although the exact significance of creak emissions (i.e. foraging attempt or prey capture) is not precisely determined, creak rates may be reliably used to quantify sperm whale foraging when single animal dives can be followed acoustically.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1799-1808
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom
Issue numberSpecial Issue 08
Early online date31 Aug 2012
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012


  • Sperm whale
  • Foraging
  • Mediterranean
  • Acoustics


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