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ESR 34:45-59 (2017)  -  DOI:

North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis occurrence in offshore wind energy areas near Massachusetts and Rhode Island, USA

S. M. Leiter1,*, K. M. Stone1, J. L. Thompson2, C. M. Accardo2, B. C. Wikgren1, M. A. Zani1, T. V. N. Cole3, R. D. Kenney4, C. A. Mayo2, S. D. Kraus

1New England Aquarium, Boston, MA 02110, USA
2Center for Coastal Studies, Provincetown, MA 02657, USA
3NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA
4University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, Narragansett, RI 02882, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Recent surveys of wind energy areas offshore of Massachusetts and Rhode Island (USA) have demonstrated that they encompass habitat used by the Endangered North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis. Prior to 2011, little systematic survey effort had been conducted in the area. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the state of Massachusetts supported 3.5 yr of twice-monthly aerial surveys by the Northeast Large Pelagic Survey Collaborative (NLPSC). Additional survey teams including the Northeast Fisheries Science Center and the Center for Coastal Studies have collected sightings data in the region. Data systematically collected by the NLPSC allowed analyses of monthly sightings rates, sightings per unit effort, and hot spots which provided information on current temporal and spatial use patterns. Abundance estimates for each season-year (i.e. a 3 mo period within a given survey year) were calculated. Behaviors observed included feeding and surface active groups. Photo-identification of whales since 2010 yielded a minimum count of 196 unique individuals (annual average = 35), or over one-third of the current population estimate. Analyses of demographics of these individuals revealed that 34 known calving females (30% of the total currently presumed alive) visited the study area. These results demonstrate consistent annual use of this area by a significant portion of the E. glacialis population, with a strong correlation between season and presence. These findings can inform management activities and development planning, and be used as a baseline dataset for assessing long-term impacts to the species.

KEY WORDS: North Atlantic right whale · Eubalaena glacialis · Wind energy area · Distribution · Abundance · Behavior · Demographics

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Cite this article as: Leiter SM, Stone KM, Thompson JL, Accardo CM and others (2017) North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis occurrence in offshore wind energy areas near Massachusetts and Rhode Island, USA. Endang Species Res 34:45-59.

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