Aerial Survey Baseline Monitoring in the Continental Shelf Region of the VACAPES OPAREA: January - February 2017

Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Foundation

Dataset credit

Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Foundation


Primary contact Jackie Bort Thornton Naval Facilities Engineering Command Atlantic
Secondary contact Sarah Mallette
Data entry Ei Fujioka Duke University


Mallette S. and Barco, S. 2017. Aerial Survey Baseline Monitoring in the Continental Shelf Region of the VACAPES OPAREA: January - February 2017. Data downloaded from OBIS-SEAMAP (


The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Foundation, Inc. (VAQF) is tasked to conduct aerial surveys for the continental shelf region off the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay within the Virginia Capes Operating Area (VACAPES OPAREA) to provide marine species monitoring services. In 2007, a multi-institutional project utilizing multiple platforms (i.e., aerial, vessel, and passive acoustic monitoring) aimed at protected species monitoring off the East Coast of the United States commenced. The current survey will complement existing United States (U.S.) Navy marine species monitoring efforts (Aerial Survey Baseline Monitoring- Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing) and supports environmental planning and regulatory compliance along the East Coast of the United States.

This project represents the first year of U.S. Department of the Navy-funded aerial survey efforts off Virginia Beach, Virginia. These surveys build upon previous survey efforts funded by Virginia Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program to document large whale occurrence in the vicinity of the Virginia Wind Energy Area (VA WEA) and contribute to regional mid-Atlantic ocean planning efforts. VAQF in collaboration with University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) conducted line-transect aerial surveys from 2012 through 2017, although surveys were not flown every month or with consistent effort between years (Mallette et al. 2014, 2016). The goal of the current aerial survey project is to complement existing monitoring projects and contribute baseline protected species occurrence data, including species distribution; abundance; density estimates; and seasonal habitat usage.

The survey site includes an approximately 6,500-square-kilometer area off the coast of Virginia extending from the southern portion of the eastern shore of Virginia to the North Carolina/Virginia state border. The aerial survey design was established based upon advisements from the Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modeling (CREEM) at the University of St. Andrews and objectives identified by the U.S. Navy. VAQF conducted fixed-wing aerial line-transect surveys, using previously established distance-sampling protocols, to document the occurrence of marine mammals and sea turtles. VAQF worked closely with the UNCW to maintain consistency among the safety, flight, and data-reporting protocols for Hatteras/Onslow/JAX baseline monitoring projects (McAlarney et al. 2013, 2015). The current report describes monitoring activities that occurred between January 2017 and June 2017.

Between the months of January and June 2017, 12 sightings of 14 humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) were recorded within the "VAQ on-shelf" survey area off the coast of Virginia. No other baleen whale species were recorded during the NAVFAC funded "VAQ on-shelf" aerial surveys during this period.

Sightings of whales were documented over four survey days between January and June 2017: 11 January (5 sightings of 5 whales), 12 January (3 sightings of 3 whales), 21 February (1 sighting of 2 whales) and 24 February (3 sightings of 4 whales).



Supplemental information

This data was created and submitted to the U.S. Department of the Navy on aerial surveys conducted along the continental shelf off the coast of Virginia Beach, Virginia, from January to June 2017. To build upon the existing dataset in the proximity of the VA WEA, previously established transect lines were modified based upon recommendations from CREEM and discussions with UNCW and the Navy to manage overlap between the coastal (VAQF) and Norfolk Canyon Survey Area offshore (UNCW) survey areas.

Static map of effort (tracklines) are visible on the OBIS-SEAMAP web site but not included in the download.


Mallette S. and Barco, S. 2017. Aerial Survey Baseline Monitoring in the Continental Shelf Region of the VACAPES OPAREA: January - February 2017. Data downloaded from OBIS-SEAMAP (



This section explains attributes included in the original dataset. OBIS-SEAMAP restricts the attributes available to the public to date/time, lat/lon and species names/counts only. Should you need other attributes described here, you are encouraged to contact the data provider.

Attributes described below represent those in the original dataset provided by the provider.
Only minimum required attributes are visible and downloadable online. Other attributes may be obtained upon provider's permission.

Attributes in dataset

Attribute (table column)Description
oidUnique ID number (generated by OBIS-SEAMAP)
dateDate of the sighting
timeTime of the sighting at local time zone
way_pointWay point
latitudeLatitude in decimal degrees
longitudeLongitude in decimal degrees
eventOn or off event
track_numberTrack number
bssBaufort Sea State
cloudCloud cover
glare_lGlare at the left side
glare_rGlare at the right side
angle_outAngle out
degree_forwardDegree forward
sighting_cueSighting cue
speciesScientific name
sp_tsnTaxonomic Serial Number added by OBIS-SEAMAP
min_countMinimum count
max_countMaximum count
best_countBest Count
sighting_distanceSighting distance
geomGeometry field added by OBIS-SEAMAP
Marine mammals65
Sea turtles320
Rays and sharks12
Other species42
Non spatial0
Non species365
Date, Begin2017-01-11
Date, End2017-06-22
Temporal prec.111111
Latitude36.54 - 37.33
Longitude-76.04 - -75.05
Coord. prec.6 decimal digits
Data typeAnimal sighting
Traveled (km)0
Contr. throughNavy
Sharing policy CC-BY-NC (Minimum)
Shared with OBIS
GBIF (via DOI)
See metadata in static HTML
See metadata in FGDC XML
See download history / statistics