Project

Galapagos Sperm Whale Habitat

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Ana Eguiguren
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• Sperm whales have occupied the waters off the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador, for at least the past 200 years. During the 19th century, they were the target of intensive whaling that severely depleted the population. In recent times, after commercial whaling ended, sperm whales in the region remain vulnerable to multiple threats, especially potential entanglement in fishing gear, which may hinder their ability to recover from the whaling era. • As a highly mobile, long‐lived species, long‐term analysis of the habitat use of sperm whales is necessary to establish effective conservation and management strategies. Here, contemporary (1985–2014) and historical (1830–1850) sperm whale habitat use off the Galápagos Islands was analysed and contrasted to the extent of the Galápagos Marine Reserve (GMR). Contemporary habitat use and its variability over time were modelled as a function of geographic, oceanographic, and topographic variables using generalized additive models. • The fine‐scale habitat (<50 km) used by sperm whales was associated with topographic (i.e. depth and slope) and oceanographic characteristics (i.e. relative sea surface temperature and standard deviation of sea surface temperature), but these preferences varied over time. • While historical and contemporary data indicate that sperm whale habitat primarily occurred within the boundaries of the GMR, in recent years, whales were found up to 30.1% of the time outside the GMR, potentially overlapping with commercial fisheries operating in the area. • The dynamic nature of the relationship of this nomadic species with its habitat highlights the need of large‐scale conservation efforts across the Eastern Tropical Pacific region, including the wide‐scale enforcement of regulations requiring the use of Automatic Identification System in fishing vessels, the promotion of on‐board fisheries observer programmes, the development of adaptive management strategies, and international collaboration to identify and mitigate threats.