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Northeast Fisheries Science Center Reference Document 09-05

North Atlantic Right Whale Sighting Survey (NARWSS) and Right Whale Sighting Advisory System (RWSAS) 2008 Results Summary

Christin Khan1, Timothy V.N. Cole2, Peter Duley1, Allison H. Glass1, Misty Niemeyer1, and Cynthia Christman1
1 Integrated Statistics, 16 Sumner Street, Woods Hole, MA 02543
2 Northeast Fisheries Science Center, 166 Water Street, Woods Hole, MA 02543

Web version posted March 30, 2009

Citation: Khan C, Cole TVN, Duley P, Glass AH, Niemeyer M, Christman C. 2009. North Atlantic Right Whale Sighting Survey (NARWSS) and Right Whale Sighting Advisory System (RWSAS) 2008 Results Summary. US Dept Commer, Northeast Fish Sci Cent Ref Doc. 09-05; 7 p.

Information Quality Act Compliance: In accordance with section 515 of Public Law 106-554, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center completed both technical and policy reviews for this report. These predissemination reviews are on file at the NEFSC Editorial Office.

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North Atlantic Right Whale Sighting Surveys

The North Atlantic Right Whale Sighting Survey (NARWSS) is a NOAA Fisheries program which locates and records the seasonal distribution of right whales off the northeastern United States.  All NARWSS flights conducted in 2008 were sawtooth surveys and followed systematic track lines within nine survey blocks: Cashes Ledge, Franklin Basin, Georges Basin, Georges Shoal, Great South Channel, Howell Swell, Jeffreys Ledge, Jordan Basin, and Stellwagen Bank (Figure 1).  There were no broadscale surveys conducted in 2008, as there have been in the past (Niemeyer et al. 2008. North Atlantic Right Whale Sighting Survey (NARWSS) and Right Whale Sighting Advisory System (RWSAS) 2007 results summary. US Dept Commer, Northeast Fish Sci Cent Ref Doc. 08-06; 6 p.).  During 2008, 53 flights that involved 295 flight hours were conducted in the nine survey blocks (Table 1).  In addition, there were directed flights to relocate whale carcasses, entangled whales or support disentanglement efforts.  During the 53 flights (not including the transits) 639 right whales were detected.  The locations of the right whale sightings and transects flown by season are displayed in Figures 2a-2d.

Right Whale Sighting Advisory System

The Right Whale Sighting Advisory System (RWSAS) is designed to reduce collisions between ships and right whales by alerting mariners to the presence of the right whales via email, the internet, Broadcast Notice to Mariners (BNM), NOAA Weather Radio, and the Mandatory Ship Reporting system (MSR; http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/shipstrike/msr/).  There were 687 reports during 2008, of which 14 were unconfirmed and 54 were late (Table 2).  These reports were obtained from a variety of sources including the NARWSS, whale research organizations, automated acoustic buoys, whale watch vessels, Coast Guard, fishing vessels, commercial ships, and the general public.  The most common sources of the reports were acoustic buoys (211 or 31%) and aerial surveys (181 or 26%) (Table 2).  Most of the reported right whale sightings in 2008 were within the Northeast region, which is from Maine through New York, where the number of reports per month varied from 24 in September to 137 in April (Figure 3 and Figure 4a).  Most of the reports of right whale sightings in the Mid-Atlantic region, which is from New Jersey through North Carolina, were from opportunistic sources, which is defined here as reports made by the general public, the Coast Guard, commercial ships and fishing vessels (Figures 3 and Figure 4b).  Most of the reported right whales in Canadian waters were from either shipboard or aerial surveys (Figure 3 and Figure 4a).

A total of 257 alerts were broadcast in 2008. Unconfirmed reports, duplicate reports, and late reports of one to two right whales did not generate an alert. Late reports of two or more whales did generate an alert since it was likely that right whales remained in the vicinity of the reported location.  Multiple sightings received on the same day were typically combined into a single alert.
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(File Modified Dec. 03 2012)