Acoustic surveys for sperm whales, using line-transect methodology, were carried out in the Ionian Sea and Straits of Sicily, Mediterranean Sea, in 2003. A total of 17 whales were detected along 3846 km of designed survey track in the Ionian Sea, and no whales along 892 km in the Straits of Sicily. This total was insufficient to estimate a detection function, so further data were obtained from quasi-random passages made elsewhere in the western Mediterranean in the same year. The encounters included several tight aggregations with inter-animal spacing less than 1 km, primarily from the western Mediterranean. Including individuals from these aggregations distorted the detection function due to the small sample sizes. No such aggregations were found during formal survey of the two areas of interest, and the aggregations were therefore excluded from detection function estimation. The resultant effective strip half-width was 10.0 km (n=40). On the assumption that g(0)=1, the resulting abundance estimates for the Ionian Sea were 62 (with 95% lognormal confidence limits of [24,165]), and 0 for the Straits of Sicily. The low abundance estimate for the Ionian Sea indicates that careful monitoring of the population is needed in the future. During passages along the Hellenic Trench, that were not part of the designed survey, several sperm whales including two aggregations were detected, suggesting that this may be a higher density area and ought to be considered as a separate stratum when designing future surveys.
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