Abstract: Prior stranding records suggest that at least 12 cetacean species occur within the Lakshadweep archipelago off the southwest coast of India. These islands consist of coral atolls and form the northern part of the undersea Chagos-Laccadive ridge. Distinct oceanographic features, seasonal monsoon cycles, and high productivity make this region a potentially rich cetacean habitat. In this article, we report findings from the first systematic visual cetacean surveys, which were conducted from high-speed passenger ferries that sail between nine Lakshadweep islands. The surveys were carried out between October 2015 and April 2016 during both the northeast monsoon (October to December) and inter-monsoon (January to April) seasons. We used a line-transect survey framework to record sightings as well as group size estimates. We documented 139 sightings over 3,880 km of which 78 sightings were during systematic survey effort. Eight odontocete species were confirmed from these sightings: Stenella longirostris, S. attenuata, S. coeruleoalba, Tursiops spp., Globicephala macrorhynchus, Pseudorca crassidens, Grampus griseus, and Feresa attenuata. One Balaenoptera sp. was also encountered during this survey. S. longirostris was sighted the most often (n = 22) followed by Tursiops spp. (n = 18) and G. macrorhynchus (n = 13). We documented significantly higher sightings in the northeast monsoon season compared to the inter-monsoon season. Along ferry routes, cetacean species differed significantly from each other with respect to their associations with seafloor slope gradients and distances to nearest landmass. We encountered mixed species assemblages of G. macrorhynchus with Tursiops sp. and S. attenuata with Tursiops sp. Given the confirmed high cetacean diversity and occurrence in this region, there is a need for in-depth, long-term studies on biogeography, ecology, and population status of cetaceans here.
Key Words: cetacean, dolphin, whale, island, season, slope, Lakshadweep, India, platform of opportunity, distribution
Page Numbers: 80-92
Cetacean Distribution and Diversity in Lakshadweep Waters, India, Using a Platform of Opportunity: October 2015 to April 2016