Little is known about cetacean communities in the tropical and sub-tropical Atlantic. This paper describes the cetacean community found east of Great Abaco in the northern Bahamas (26·5°N) during summer months between 1998 and 2001. Nine species of cetaceans were recorded, which could be divided into two distinct groupings: firstly, ‘permanent’ species, which had relative sightings rates between 0·026–0·084 sightings per hour and which were recorded on many occasions in all years and most months; secondly, ‘sporadic’ species, which had relative sightings rates an order of magnitude lower (0·004–0·008 sightings per hour) and which were recorded on very few occasions. The ‘permanent’ species were the Stenella frontalis (Atlantic spotted dolphin), Kogia simus (the dwarf sperm whale), Mesoplodon densirostris (Blainville's beaked whale) and Ziphius cavirostris (Cuvier's beaked whale). These four species differed significantly in the depth of grid squares utilized (χ=20·25, df=9, P<0·01) suggesting that these species occupied four separate niches. Stenella frontalis dominated the surface feeding niche, while the remaining three deep-diving species segregated into different depth ranges. Kogia simus was the dominant species in water depths of less than 200 m, M. densirostris in water depths of 200 to 1000 m and Z. cavirostris in water depths of greater than 1000 m. The overall relative density (2·533 individuals per hour of effort) and diversity of species in the study area was relatively low and may relate to low levels of local productivity. It is hypothesized that the four ‘permanent’ species may competitively exclude ecologically similar species, resulting in a reduced number of species and that ‘sporadic’ species may only enter the study area during times of higher than usual productivity when the ‘permanent’ species are no longer able to dominate their individual niches.
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