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Acoustic localization, validation, and characterization of Rice's whale calls.

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The recently named Rice's whale in the Gulf of Mexico is one of the most endangered whales in the world, and improved knowledge of spatiotemporal occurrence patterns is needed to support their recovery and conservation. Passive acoustic monitoring methods for determining spatiotemporal occurrence patterns require identifying the species' call repertoire. Rice's whale call repertoire remains unvalidated though several potential call types have been identified. This study uses sonobuoys and passive acoustic tagging to validate the source of potential call types and to characterize Rice's whale calls. During concurrent visual and acoustic surveys, acoustic-directed approaches were conducted to obtain visual verifications of sources of localized sounds. Of 28 acoustic-directed approaches, 79% led to sightings of balaenopterid whales, of which 10 could be positively identified to species as Rice's whales. Long-moan calls, downsweep sequences, and tonal-sequences are attributed to Rice's whales based on these matches, while anthropogenic sources are ruled out. A potential new call type, the low-frequency downsweep sequence, is characterized from tagged Rice's whale recordings. The validation and characterization of the Rice's whale call repertoire provides foundational information needed to use passive acoustic monitoring for better understanding and conservation of these critically endangered whales.

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