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"Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That's the problem."

-A.A. Milne

Baleen Whale Migration and Distribution Patterns

Distribution and seasonal occurrence throughout the Northeast U.S.

right whale monthly occurrence

Map: Monthly North Atlantic right whale acoustic occurrence along the eastern seaboard. Warmer colors indicate more days with right whale acoustic presence, cooler colors indicate fewer days with acoustic presence. White dots indicate recorder locations for some time during that month between the years 2004-2014.
Adapted from M. Thompson, NOAA/SBNMS

We use long-term passive acoustic recordings collected throughout the Northwest Atlantic Ocean to investigate the seasonal and spatial distributions of species with known call types. Our primary goal is to better understand the distribution and seasonal occurrence of marine mammals throughout the Northeast U.S. By combining long-term recordings, we can examine shifts in distribution and occurrence (figure 3), as well as monitor how species may be changing their behavior as a result of climatic changes and anthropogenic activities.

In collaboration with colleagues who have been working throughout the Northwest Atlantic seaboard, a comprehensive data set was created. Available archival passive acoustic data were brought together to better understand the acoustic presence of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale (NARW); how their movements have changed; and where we should focus future research and management efforts.

Recordings were collected (from four different types of bottom-mounted recorders) and combined from 19 different organizations between 2004-2014. Using a detector built by Mark Baumgartner (see Baumgartner & Mussoline 2011), verified North Atlantic right whale upcalls were used to determine acoustic presence. The data were divided into regions based on geographical and biological relevance, and split into two time periods reflecting the witnessed NARW distribution shift in 2010 (figure 2). Results are published in Nature Scientific Reports, Davis et al. 2017
Comprehensive map of recorder locations
Recording Platforms

Figure 2 (left): Map of recorder locations with analysis-divided regions. Dot-color indicates time period recorders were deployed. From Davis et al. 2017. See list of collaborators below for data-sources.

These data can provide novel insights into species movements over time, in places that are otherwise hard to observe and monitor visually. A subset of these data were used previously to understand seasonal migrations of the North Atlantic minke whale (Risch et al. 2014). Results described temporal and spatial distributions, including how close to shore minke whales travel (figure 4) along the eastern seaboard. Our goal is to perform this same type of analysis for four other species of baleen whales (sei whale, fin whale, blue whale, and humpback whale). In addition to improving our baseline information on species distributions, we can also compare movements of species to see if they are shifting over time (figure 3).

figure of right whale presence shifts over time periods

Figure 3: Weekly NARW Presence Comparison from 2004-2014: Boxplots representing the number of days per calendar week with confirmed North Atlantic right whale upcall acoustic presence in each region described in figure 2 and for each time period of interest (2004-2010 and 2011-2014). From Davis et al. 2017

Spatial distribution of minke whale pulse trains

Figure 4: Maps illustrating the spatial distribution of all minke whale pulse trains detected at recorders located at sites (a) New York and (b) Jacksonville.
From Risch et al. 2014

Data collaborators:

  • Kate Stafford- University of Washington (Data: Davis Straight)
  • Dave Mellinger & Sharon Nieukirk- Oregon State University (Data: Scotian Shelf, Iceland/Greenland)
  • Hilary Moors-Murphy- Fisheries and Oceans Canada (Data: Scotian Shelf)
  • Susan Parks- Syracuse University (Data: Bay of Fundy)
  • Erin Summers- Maine Department of Marine Resources (Data: Gulf of Maine)
  • Jackie Bort Thornton & Sean Todd- NAVFAC/College of the Atlantic (Data: Gulf of Maine)
  • NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center
  • Scott Kraus- New England Aquarium (Data: Southern New England)
  • Bruce Martin & Julien Delarue- JASCO Applies Sciences (Data: Nantucket Sound, Delaware Bay)
  • Gary Buchanan- New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (Data: New Jersey)
  • Chris Clark, Aaron Rice, & Holger Klinck- Cornell University (Data: New York, Virginia, Southeast US)
  • Melissa Soldevilla- NOAA SEFSC (Data: Southeast US)
  • Andy Read, Doug Nowacek, & Joy Stanistreet- Duke University (Data: Cape Hatteras, Southeast US)
  • Joel Bell- NAVFAC (Data: Southeast US)
  • John Hildebrand & Ana Sirovic- Scripps Institution of Oceanogaphy, UC San Diego (Data: Southeast US, Bermuda)
  • Catherine Berchok- NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center (Data: Dominican Republic)
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