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MEPS 732:167-192 (2024)  -  DOI:

North Atlantic right whale density surface model for the US Atlantic evaluated with passive acoustic monitoring

Jason J. Roberts1,*, Tina M. Yack1, Ei Fujioka1, Patrick N. Halpin1, Mark F. Baumgartner2, Oliver Boisseau3, Samuel Chavez-Rosales4, Timothy V. N. Cole5, Mark P. Cotter6, Genevieve E. Davis5, Robert A. DiGiovanni Jr.7, Laura C. Ganley8, Lance P. Garrison9, Caroline P. Good10, Timothy A. Gowan11, Katharine A. Jackson11, Robert D. Kenney12, Christin B. Khan5, Amy R. Knowlton8, Scott D. Kraus8, Gwen G. Lockhart13, Kate S. Lomac-MacNair14, Charles A. Mayo15, Brigid E. McKenna4, William A. McLellan16, Douglas P. Nowacek17,18, Orfhlaith O’Brien8, D. Ann Pabst16, Debra L. Palka5, Eric M. Patterson10, Daniel E. Pendleton4, Ester Quintana-Rizzo19, Nicholas R. Record20, Jessica V. Redfern8, Meghan E. Rickard21, Melanie White22, Amy D. Whitt23, Ann M. Zoidis14

1Marine Geospatial Ecology Laboratory, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA
2Biology Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA
3Marine Conservation Research, Kelvedon CO5 9AA, UK
4Integrated Statistics under contract to Northeast Fisheries Science Center, NOAA Fisheries, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA
5Northeast Fisheries Science Center, NOAA Fisheries, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA
6HDR, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA 23445, USA
7Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, Hampton Bays, NY 11946, USA
8Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, New England Aquarium, Boston, MA 02110, USA
9Southeast Fisheries Science Center, NOAA Fisheries, Miami, FL 33149, USA
10Office of Protected Resources, NOAA Fisheries, Silver Spring, MD 20910, USA
11Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, USA
12Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, RI 02882, USA
13Tetra Tech, Inc., Boston, MA 02109, USA
14Tetra Tech, Inc., Oakland, CA 94612, USA
15Center for Coastal Studies, Provincetown, MA 02657, USA
16Department of Biology and Marine Biology, University of North Carolina Wilmington, Wilmington, NC 28403, USA
17Duke University Marine Laboratory, Beaufort, NC 28516, USA
18Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA
19Emmanuel College, Boston, MA 02155, USA
20Tandy Center for Ocean Forecasting, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, East Boothbay, ME 04544, USA
21New York Natural Heritage Program, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, State University of New York, Kings Park, NY 11754, USA
22Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, Clearwater, FL 33767, USA
23Azura Consulting LLC, Garland, TX 75043, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The Critically Endangered North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis entered a population decline around 2011. To save this species without closing the ocean to human activities requires detailed information about its intra-annual density patterns that can be used to assess and mitigate human-caused risks. Using 2.9 million km of visual line-transect survey effort from the US Atlantic and Canadian Maritimes conducted in 2003-2020 by 11 institutions, we modeled the absolute density (ind. km-2) of the species using spatial, temporal, and environmental covariates at a monthly time step. We accounted for detectability differences between survey platforms, teams, and conditions, and corrected all data for perception and availability biases, accounting for platform differences, whale dive behavior, group composition, and group size. We produced maps of predicted density and evaluated our results using independently collected passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) data. Densities correlated positively (r = 0.46, ρ = 0.58, τ = 0.46) with acoustic detection rates obtained at 492 stationary PAM recorders deployed across the study area (mean recorder duration = 138 d). This is the first study to quantify the concurrence of visual and acoustic observations of the species in US waters. We summarized predictions into mean monthly density and uncertainty maps for the 2003-2009 and 2010-2020 eras, based on the significant changes in the species’ spatial distribution that began around 2010. The results quantify the striking distribution shifts and provide effort- and bias-corrected density surfaces to inform risk assessments, estimations of take, and marine spatial planning.

KEY WORDS: Eubalaena glacialis · Density models · Line-transect surveys · Passive acoustic monitoring · Abundance estimation · Generalized additive models

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Cite this article as: Roberts JJ, Yack TM, Fujioka E, Halpin PN and others (2024) North Atlantic right whale density surface model for the US Atlantic evaluated with passive acoustic monitoring. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 732:167-192.

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