Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) are an endangered large whale species that live primarily in deep offshore waters at the continental shelf break. The New York Bight (NYB), an ecologically rich region off the U.S. Atlantic coast between New Jersey and Long Island, provides habitat for the species throughout most of the year.
Sperm whale sightings were collected during the New York Bight Whale Monitoring Program aerial surveys that were conducted monthly from March 2017 through February 2020. In total, 32 groups consisting of 72 sperm whales, ranging in group size from a single animal to seven individuals, were recorded during the three-year survey. The sightings revealed behavior not previously observed and provide new information on how sperm whales are using waters off New York.
In August 2018, a group of seven sperm whales (6 adult females and 1 juvenile) was observed in a circle formation with their heads in and tails outward. This is known as a rosette formation that is typically observed as a defense mechanism. Shortly after the rosette formation occurred, observers recorded a pod of dolphins that appeared to be harassing the juvenile whale.
Another observation in July 2019 showed two mother-calf pairs together, which resulted in the first photo record of nursing behavior in the NYB. In addition to behavior, anthropogenic impacts on whales were also observed during the survey. Additionally, in July 2018, an entangled sperm whale provided a stark example of the risks to large whales from human activity.
These findings were recently published by A. Zoidis et.al, Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus) Behavioral Events Observed During Aerial Surveys in the New York Bight, 2017-2020, in Aquatic Mammals 2023, 49(3), 308-319. This is the fourth published paper from the NYB Whale Monitoring Program, which is funded by the Environmental Protection Fund/Ocean and Great Lakes.
Photo: Sperm whale in rosette formation positioning with juvenile in the middle following an interaction with bottlenose dolphins courtesy M. Smultea.