Habitat-based cetacean density models for the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico (2015 Version)

Marine Geospatial Ecology Laboratory / Duke University

Northeast Fisheries Science Center / NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Fisheries Science Center / NOAA Fisheries, Department of Biology and Marine Biology / UNC Wilmington, Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center

Marine Geospatial Ecology LaboratoryNOAA National Marine Fisheries ServiceDept. of Biology and Marine Biology, UNC WilmingtonVirginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center


NOTE: These are not current models. The latest models are available here for the U.S. East Coast and here for the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. This page is maintainted for publication and legacy purposes.


NOAA pilots and scientists board a De Havilland Twin Otter survey aircraft. (Credit: NOAA/NEFSC/Allison Henry)
Feeding North Atlantic right whale observed during an aerial survey. (Credit: NOAA/NEFSC/Christin Khan, collected under MMPA Research Permit #17355)
Schematic of the North Atlantic right whale spring season model (March-April), showing survey tracklines and whale sightings. Full model details may be downloaded below. (Credit: Duke Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab)
Mean modeled density of North Atlantic right whales in spring season (March-April) with whale sightings overlaid. Density maps and GIS-compatible rasters may be downloaded below. (Credit: Duke Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab)

Cetaceans are protected worldwide but vulnerable to incidental harm from an expanding array of human activities at sea. Managing potential hazards to these highly-mobile populations increasingly requires a detailed understanding of their seasonal distributions and habitats. Pursuant to the urgent need for this knowledge in U.S. waters of the western North Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, we integrated aerial and shipboard cetacean surveys conducted by five scientific organizations over 23 years and linked them to environmental data relating to cetacean habitat, such as sea surface temperature and chlorophyll concentration, obtained from satellite remote sensing and ocean models.

Using distance sampling methodology, we built statistical models of cetacean density—the number of individual animals found per square kilometer of area—from environmental variables for 26 species and 3 multi-species guilds, and produced maps showing average density across the modeled region. Depending on the survey data that was available and how well each modeled taxon's movement patterns were described in the scientific literature, we produced either 12 monthly maps or one “year-round” map for each taxon. These are the first cetacean density maps for these regions to be published in the peer-reviewed literature.

This website allows you to download the density maps for each taxon in GIS-compatible raster format along with maps that estimate the statistical uncertainty in the density estimates. Included with the maps are taxon-specific, region-specific reports that describe the modeling decisions made for each taxon, discuss the results, and provide diagnostic maps, plots, and statistical output.


Roberts JJ, Best BD, Mannocci L, Fujioka E, Halpin PN, Palka DL, Garrison LP, Mullin KD, Cole TVN, Khan CB, McLellan WM, Pabst DA, Lockhart GG (2016) Habitat-based cetacean density models for the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Scientific Reports 6: 22615. doi: 10.1038/srep22615. (Download)

For More Information

Share With Your Friends

Do you find this project interesting? Share it with your friends! Here are some images suitably-sized for social media. Use your browser's "Save As" or "View Image" command to obtain full-size copies.

Line transect surveys used in this study. Surveyors: NOAA NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), NOAA NMFS Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC), University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center (VAMSC). (Credit: Duke Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab. Background map credit: Esri, DeLorme, GEBCO, NOAA NGDC, and other contributors.)
Cetacean species richness (number of species present), derived from presence/absence maps for the 35 species that inhabit the study area. Presence/absence maps produced by identifying the grid cells that capture 99% of the year-round mean abundance of each species, in the fewest number of grid cells. (Credit: Duke Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab. Background map credit: Esri, DeLorme, GEBCO, NOAA NGDC, and other contributors.)

All images above and animations below © 2015 by the Duke University Marine Geospatial Ecology Laboratory and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Explore the Models with the Density Mapping Application

The Density Mapper displays the models in an online GIS allowing detailed exploration of the outputs. The surfaces can be zoomed and animated. Histograms can be generated for specific areas of interest.

The mapper can also be launched from the species lists on this page by clicking the "Explore" link for a specific taxa.

Some Illustrative Animations

Best viewed in full screen mode.

"Flight simulator" animation of a UNC Wilmington aerial survey off North Carolina, showing the surveying process and an overlay of survey results on satellite oceanographic imagery (Credit: Duke Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab, UNC Wilmington, NOAA/NEFSC)
Tracklines of surveys used in our analysis. This animation highlights the heterogeneous distribution of survey effort that made modeling challenging. (Credit: Duke Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab)
Some of the oceanographic data used to build the cetacean density models. The animation shows the influence of dominant ocean currents (streams of arrows), seasonal rise and fall in sea surface temperature and chlorophyll concentration, and formation and movement of mesoscale features such as geostrophic eddies (rings of arrows) and meanders in the Gulf Stream. (Credit: Duke Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab)
An example result from our study. Both maps show modeled humpback whale density. The right map overlays survey tracklines and humpback sightings, so that correspondence between the model predictions and raw survey data may be assessed visually. The abundance plot (heavy black line) shows the total number of whales present in the modeled area throughout the year. The red line tracks the date of the animation. Note: These daily images are for illustration only. For management applications, we recommend monthly predictions, downloadable below. (Credit: Duke Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab)


Creative Commons LicenseThese files are © 2015 by the Duke University Marine Geospatial Ecology Laboratory and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. If you use them in a scientific publication or technical report, we kindly request that you cite our journal publication listed above.

Download specific results below or all maps, animations, data, and supplemental reports together here: East Coast (EC) (1.63 GB), Gulf of Mexico (GOM) (340 MB). Animations are offered for the 11 east coast taxa we predicted at a monthly time step (see Frequently asked questions for discussion of seasonality).

Maps : Static images of the density maps

Maps+Animation : Link includes anamation of the data

Data : Zip file download of the Data

Explore : Opens the interactive density mapper in a new tab, focused on the specific taxa and region

Small delphinoids

Modeled Taxon Scientific Name East Coast (EC) Gulf of Mexico (GOM)
Atlantic spotted dolphin Stenella frontalis Maps, Data Maps, Data
Atlantic white-sided dolphin Lagenorhynchus acutus Maps+Animation, Data
Common bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus Maps+Animation, Data Maps, Data
Clymene dolphin Stenella clymene Maps, Data Maps, Data
Fraser's dolphin Lagenodelphis hosei Maps, Data Maps, Data
Harbor porpoise Phocoena phocoena Maps+Animation, Data
Pantropical spotted dolphin Stenella attenuata Maps, Data Maps, Data
Rough-toothed dolphin Steno bredanensis Maps, Data Maps, Data
Short-beaked common dolphin Delphinus delphis Maps+Animation, Data
Spinner dolphin Stenella longirostris Maps, Data Maps, Data
Striped dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba Maps, Data Maps, Data
White-beaked dolphin Lagenorhynchus albirostris Maps, Data

Large delphinoids

Modeled Taxon Scientific Name East Coast (EC) Gulf of Mexico (GOM)
False killer whale Pseudorca crassidens Maps, Data Maps, Data
Killer whale Orcinus orca Maps, Data Maps, Data
Melon-headed whale Peponocephala electra Maps, Data Maps, Data
Pilot whales (guild)
Long-finned pilot whale
Short-finned pilot whale

Globicephala melas (EC only)
Globicephala macrorhynchus
Maps, Data Maps, Data
Pygmy killer whale Feresa attenuata Maps, Data
Risso's dolphin Grampus griseus Maps+Animation, Data Maps, Data

Beaked and sperm whales

Modeled Taxon Scientific Name East Coast (EC) Gulf of Mexico (GOM)
Beaked whales (guild)
Blainville's beaked whale
Cuvier's beaked whale
Gervais' beaked whale
Sowerby's beaked whale
True's beaked whale

Mesoplodon densirostris
Ziphius cavirostris
Mesoplodon europaeus
Mesoplodon bidens
Mesoplodon mirus (EC only)
Maps, Data Maps, Data
Kogia whales (guild)
Dwarf sperm whale
Pygmy sperm whale

Kogia sima
Kogia breviceps
Maps, Data Maps, Data
Northern bottlenose whale Hyperoodon ampullatus Maps, Data
Sperm whale Physeter macrocephalus Maps+Animation, Data Maps, Data

Baleen whales

Modeled Taxon Scientific Name East Coast (EC) Gulf of Mexico (GOM)
Blue whale Balaenoptera musculus Maps, Data
Bryde's whale Balaenoptera brydei Maps, Data Maps, Data
Fin whale Balaenoptera physalus Maps+Animation, Data Maps, Data
Minke whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata Maps+Animation, Data
Humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae Maps+Animation, Data
North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis Maps+Animation, Data
Sei whale Balaenoptera borealis Maps+Animation, Data


Above all, we thank the observers, scientists, engineers, pilots, captains, and crews who collected and shared cetacean and remote sensing observations with us; thank you for the opportunity to analyze the data you produced. In addition to the surveys contributed by the coauthors, Amy Whitt, Suzanne Bates, and Gary Buchanan contributed surveys from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Projection [Ocean/Wind Power Ecological Baseline Study](http://www.nj.gov/dep/dsr/ocean-wind/report.htm). Phil Hammond, Claire Lacey and colleagues contributed the [Small Cetacean Abundance in the North Sea and Adjacent waters II (SCANS-II)](http://biology.st-andrews.ac.uk/scans2/index.html) and [Cetacean Offshore Distribution and Abundance in the European Atlantic (CODA)](http://biology.st-andrews.ac.uk/coda/) surveys. Odd Aksel Bergstad, Thomas de Lange Wenneck, Leif Nøttestad, and Gordon Waring contributed the [MAR-ECO survey](/dataset/103151625) under the Norwegian License for Open Government data (NLOD). Vincent Ridoux and colleagues contributed surveys from the [REcensements des Mammifères marins et autre Mégafaune pélagique par Observation Aérienne (REMMOA) programme](http://www.aires-marines.fr/Connaitre/Habitats-et-especes-pelagiques/Survol-des-mammiferes-marins-en-outre-mer). (The SCANS, CODA, MAR-ECO, and REMMOA surveys were used in fitting certain detection functions but not in spatial modeling; please see our journal publication for more information.)

NJ-DEP Ocean/Wind Power Ecological Baseline Study SCANS II and CODA Surveys MAR-ECO Survey REcensements des Mammifères marins et autre Mégafaune pélagique par Observation Aérienne (REMMOA) programme

The altimeter products used in this analysis were produced by [SSALTO/DUACS and distributed by AVISO](http://www.aviso.altimetry.fr/duacs/), with support from CNES. Dudley Chelton, Michael Schlax, and colleagues contributed a [database of geostrophic eddies](http://cioss.coas.oregonstate.edu/eddies/) detected in the AVISO data. Stéphane Maritorena and Erik Fields contributed satellite chlorophyll data from the [Ocean Color MEaSUREs project](http://wiki.icess.ucsb.edu/measures). Patrick Lehodey, Beatriz Calmettes, and colleagues contributed zooplankton and micronekton results from the [Spatial Ecosystem and Population Dynamics Model (SEAPODYM)](http://www.spc.int/ofp/seapodym/).

Thanks to our colleagues for review and advice, especially Susan Barco, Elizabeth Becker, Danielle Cholewiak, Peter Corkeron, Andrew DiMatteo, Megan Ferguson, Karin Forney, Jim Hain, Jolie Harrison, Leila Hatch, Dave Johnston, Elizabeth Josephson, Erin LaBrecque, David L. Miller, Doug Nowacek, Joel Ortega-Ortiz, Richard Pace, Rui Prieto, Andy Read, Denise Risch, Jooke Robbins, Rob Schick, Doug Sigourney, Melissa Soldevilla, Joy Stanistreet, Len Thomas, Kim Urian, Sofie Van Parijs, Danielle Waples, and Simon Wood.

Funding for this analysis was provided by the U.S. Navy Fleet Forces Command and by NASA (Grant/Cooperative Agreement Number NNX08AK73G). The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center aerial surveys were funded by the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program at the Department of Environmental Quality through Task 1 of Grant NA12NOS4190027 and Task 95.02 of Grant NA13NOS4190135 from NOAA, under the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, as amended. The NOAA Gulf of Mexico aerial and ship surveys were primarily conducted under inter-agency agreements between the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center and BOEM Gulf of Mexico Region (numbers 16197, 1445-IA09-96-0009, and 15958). The University of North Carolina, Wilmington surveys were funded by U.S. Navy Fleet Forces Command with Joel Bell as the COTR, and by NOAA.

United States Fleet Forces Command National Aeronautics and Space Administration NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program

Conflict of Interest Statement

As acknowledged above, U.S. Navy Fleet Forces Command was one of the funders of this modeling project. The Navy was given the opportunity to suggest spatial, temporal, and taxonomical resolutions and a geographic extent that would facilitate the Navy’s use of the results in U.S. environmental regulatory processes. When the analysis was complete, the Navy was given opportunity to view preliminary results. Neither the Navy nor any other funder participated in the analysis of the data or the preparation of the manuscript.

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