Studying Sperm Whales and Beaked Whales in the Atlantic: The MAPS Project

Sperm whales and beaked whales are two of the most cryptic whales. Follow the scientists in this BOEM partnership study aboard the Song of the Whale in the deep mid-Atlantic waters as they collect data for the Marine Mammal Passive Acoustics and Spatial Ecology project in 2019. The data will help BOEM make decisions and mitigate impacts from any future offshore energy and marine mineral development, as required by federal law.

For the first time ever, on Feb. 3, 2019, researchers attached a high-resolution digital acoustic recording tag to a sperm whale to record data about its diving depth and behavior in those waters. These tags allow us to record every sound the whale makes and every sound it hears, as well as to rapidly sample the pitch (how its body is angled up or down), the yaw (the side to side movements), as well as depth and temperature, giving us the finest scale data available.

No sperm whales have ever been tagged in this area, to our knowledge, and certainly not in winter. This creates a significant data gap for the species and region, so their acoustic, diving and foraging behavior in this area of the Atlantic are completely unknown. This is where the deep submarine canyons exist, and more generally in the mid- and South Atlantic, the potential for offshore oil and gas reserves. Are whales using the canyons? How deep are they diving? The tag data will give us a window into these unknown regions, better understanding sperm and beaked whale habitat use and acoustic behavior in the OCS. In addition, we are learning about their abundance and distribution.

Our study partners include the University of North Carolina Wilmington , Duke University’s Marine Lab, Marine Conservation Research, Conserve.IO, Wild Me, the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, and the MarineQuest science outreach program at UNCW.

For periodic updates from the cruise team: https://openexplorer.nationalgeographic.com/expedition/beakedwhales

For the BOEM study profile: https://marinecadastre.gov/espis/#/search/study/100213