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Cetacean distribution models based on visual and passive acoustic data.


Distribution models are needed to understand spatiotemporal patterns in cetacean occurrence and to mitigate anthropogenic impacts. Shipboard line-transect visual surveys are the standard method for estimating abundance and describing the distributions of cetacean populations. Ship-board surveys provide high spatial resolution but lack temporal resolution and seasonal coverage. Stationary passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) employs acoustic sensors to sample point locations nearly continuously, providing high temporal resolution in local habitats across days, seasons and years. To evaluate whether cross-platform data synthesis can improve distribution predictions, models were developed for Cuvier's beaked whales, sperm whales, and Risso's dolphins in the oceanic Gulf of Mexico using two different methods: generalized additive models and neural networks. Neural networks were able to learn unspecified interactions between drivers. Models that incorporated PAM datasets out-performed models trained on visual data alone, and joint models performed best in two out of three cases. The modeling results suggest that, when taken together, multiple species distribution models using a variety of data types may support conservation and management of Gulf of Mexico cetacean populations by improving the understanding of temporal and spatial species distribution trends.

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