, Volume 53, Issue 1, pp 31-41

Male sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus ) acoustics in a high-latitude habitat: implications for echolocation and communication

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Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) are deep-diving predators foraging in meso- and bathypelagic ecosystems off the continental shelves. To investigate the ecophysiological and communicative function of various click types from male sperm whales in a high-latitude habitat, we deployed a large-aperture array of calibrated hydrophones off northern Norway (N69, E15). Data show that sperm whales in this habitat produce three click types: usual clicks, creak clicks and, occasionally, slow clicks. Usual clicks and creak clicks exhibit short duration, profound directionality and a frequency content suited for echolocation on meso- and bathypelagic fish and squids. The acoustic properties and low repetition rate of usual clicks are suited for long-range echolocation, whereas creak clicks have properties equivalent to signals in buzzes, the terminating pulse trains known from echolocating bats during prey capture. From these source parameters and the high acoustic activity during foraging dives, it is concluded that echolocation is an important sensory cue in prey location. Sound pressure levels of creak clicks and usual clicks measured off the acoustic axis suggest that sperm whales may be subjected to eavesdropping by conspecifics, thereby conveying information about food aggregations at estimated ranges of 6 km for creak clicks and 16 km for usual clicks. Slow clicks exhibit low directionality, low-frequency emphasis and a reduced repetition rate, suggesting that this click type is more suited for communication than for echolocation. Slow clicks can be detected by submerged conspecifics at ranges up to 60 km. Thus, sperm whales producing slow clicks may represent an odontocete species that utilizes long-range sound communication.