Habitat of Galápagos sperm whales: A cultural perspective and implications for conservation
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Habitat models elucidate species-environment relationships and inform conservation. But the influence of environmental variables on habitat use is scale-dependent and influenced by behaviour. Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) occupy a broad range of spatiotemporal scales and their behaviour is culturally driven. Here, I characterized sperm whale habitat off the Galápagos Islands through time, determined their vulnerability to threats within the Galápagos Marine Reserve (GMR), and investigated the role of culture in shaping habitat use. Over fine spatiotemporal scales (less than a decade, <50 km) sperm whale habitat was associated with environmental conditions, but these varied across time. Over broader scales (between centuries, >100 km) their distribution was associated with productive areas and was encompassed by the GMR, although encounters also occurred outside its boundaries. The cultural identity of sperm whales affected their habitat use. This work contributes to our understanding of processes shaping sperm whale habitat and provides insights for conservation.