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Combining satellite telemetry and remotely sensed environmental data to provide predictions of whale occurrence in the California Current System to reduce human impacts
Despite the end of commercial whaling, many whale populations have been slow to increase in number, and one of the reasons for this is continued human-induced mortality. Human impacts including collisions with vessels, entanglement in fishing gear and exposure to underwater noise are major sources of disturbance, injury and mortality to large whales.
In 2007 there were four blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) killed by ship strikes off California, the highest number recorded for any year (NOAA/NMFS/SWR Stranding Database, 2012). In 2004-2008 there were 18 observed entanglements of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), in fishing gear off California, Oregon and Washington1. Above: Humpback whale in Monterey Bay. Photograph by Helen Bailey.
There is an urgent need for better information on the occurrence and movements of large whale species to help inform policy-making for protection of these species. To help meet this need, the WhaleWatch team has developed habitat-based models and near real-time predictions of the probability of whale occurrence to help inform how human activities can be limited to times and areas of lower risk to whales.
We have analyzed the satellite-derived tracks of blue, fin (Balaenoptera physalus), humpback, and gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) in the California Current System collected by Bruce Mate (Oregon State University). These locations have been integrated with remotely sensed environmental data and used to develop habitat-based models of the probability of whale occurrence, density, and behavior by Helen Bailey (University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science), and Daniel Palacios, Elliott Hazen, Steven Bograd and Karin Forney (NOAA/NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center).
These products are allowing large whale hotspots to be identified, and provide a near real-time tool for determining occurrence and risk to whales using a similar approach to the TurtleWatch tool by Evan Howell (NOAA/NMFS Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center). Managers and marine users will be able to use our tool to identify hotspots, and also the time or location at which there would be the lowest probability of whale occurrence, and ultimately the lowest risk to whales. Above: Blue whale off California being tagged by Bruce Mate’s team at Oregon State University
Our partner in this project is the NOAA/NMFS West Coast Regional Office. A priority issue for the Protected Resources Division of the West Coast Regional Office is to reduce the number of ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear for large whales.
The whale prediction maps and tool are being transitioned to the NOAA/NMFS West Coast Regional Office so that it can be used for marine spatial planning, informing management decisions, and the development of policies or regulations for protecting high-use areas.
The tool is available on the NOAA website so that other marine users and stakeholders can use it to assess and reduce the risk of impact to Federally protected whale species. Right: Map of blue whale tracks color-coded by year they were satellite tagged. Image by Daniel Palacios.
Movement and habitat modeling
University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
Marine Mammal Biologist
Funding Support for WhaleWatch project
Funding was provided under the interagency NASA, USGS, National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Smithsonian Institution Climate and Biological Response program, Grant Number NNX11AP71G.
NASA Applied Sciences Program
Funding Support for Tagging
1 Carretta, J.V., K.A. Forney, E. Oleson, K. Martien, M.M. Muto, M.S. Lowry, J. Barlow, J. Baker, B. Hanson, D. Lynch, L. Carswell, R.L. Brownell, J. Robbins, D.K. Mattila, K. Ralls & M.C. Hill. 2011. U.S. Pacific marine mammal stock assessments: 2010. U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA Technical Memorandum NOAA-TM-NMFS-SWFSC-476. 352 pp.