Characterizing North Atlantic right whale habitat through integration of satellite tagging, acoustic, and visual survey data

North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) remain seriously endangered, with less
than 500 individuals in the entire population. Efforts to mitigate human caused mortality (ship
strikes and fishing gear entanglements) rely on a comprehensive understanding of right whale
distribution, movements, and occurrence, particularly with respect to regional oceanographic
conditions. Large databases of right whale occurrence have been amassed using aerial surveys,
satellite tagging, and passive acoustic monitoring. Each of these methods provides occurrence
data over very different spatial and temporal scales, and quantitatively characterizing habitat can
be conducted independently with any one of these methods. However, to characterize right
whale distribution and habitat over large spatial scales and long temporal scales (e.g., annually
throughout the Gulf of Maine and Scotian Shelf), it would be extremely useful if data from these
three methods could be combined into a single habitat analysis. Because techniques to
accomplish such an analysis are lacking, the proposed project seeks to develop a new approach.
Right whale occurrence data and a Gulf of Maine oceanographic climatology will be used to
construct monthly maps of occurrence probability. These probability maps can then be applied
to research on the distributional ecology of the species as well as improving efforts to mitigate
human-related effects on the population.
WHOI Proposal