ESR 26:39-57 (2014)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00627

Where the whales are: using habitat modeling to support changes in shipping regulations within National Marine Sanctuaries in Central California

Andrea Dransfield1,2, Ellen Hines1,3, Jennifer McGowan1,2, Barbara Holzman3, Nadav Nur2, Meredith Elliott2, Julie Howar2, Jaime Jahncke2,*

1Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies, Tiburon, California 94920, USA
2Point Blue Conservation Science, Petaluma, California 94954, USA
3San Francisco State University, San Francisco, California 94132, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Understanding habitat preferences for endangered species is a high priority for management strategies to ensure minimum conflict between human uses and wildlife conservation. The purpose of this study was to identify oceanographic variables that predict occurrences of humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae within the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries, California, USA, to assess potential conflict with vessel traffic. We used data collected by Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies (ACCESS) conducted from 2004 to 2011. Using zero-inflated negative binomial regression, we developed predictive models and identified locations highly used by whales to characterize humpback whale habitat. We analyzed whale encounter rates at 3-km bin intervals in relation to bathymetric, surface and mid-water hydrographic predictor variables and temporal variables characterizing oceanographic conditions. Our models included variables that accounted for detectability of whales. Two models were compared and contrasted: (1) a surface-only model, using only surface oceanographic variables, and (2) a surface + mid-water model, using both surface and mid-water variables. The surface + mid-water model performed significantly better than the surface-only model, which underestimated the amount of suitable whale habitat in the northern half of our study area. We compared resulting predicted habitat areas with previous and current San Francisco Bay Area shipping lane polygonal footprints to investigate whether newly accepted changes in routes reduced areal overlap with humpback whale habitat. Although our analyses show that the area occupied by shipping traffic has decreased in areas of high predicted humpback whale habitat use, changes in vessel lane footprints do not account for several important aspects of ship-strike risk, including vessel frequency, speed, size and density patterns within the shipping lanes and variability between lanes.


KEY WORDS: Humpback whale · Habitat modeling · Ship strikes · Habitat suitability · Shipping lanes · Generalized linear model · Geographic information system · Zero-inflated negative binomial regression


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Cite this article as: Dransfield A, Hines E, McGowan J, Holzman B and others (2014) Where the whales are: using habitat modeling to support changes in shipping regulations within National Marine Sanctuaries in Central California. Endang Species Res 26:39-57. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00627

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