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

Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 22615, Published Online 03 March 2016

By Jason J. Roberts, Benjamin D. Best, Laura Mannocci, Ei Fujioka, Patrick N. Halpin, Debra L. Palka, Lance P. Garrison, Keith D. Mullin, Timothy V. N. Cole, Christin B. Khan, William A. McLellan, D. Ann Pabst, and Gwen G. Lockhart

“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 for the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, we integrated 23 years of aerial and shipboard cetacean surveys, linked them to environmental covariates obtained from remote sensing and ocean models, and built habitat-based density models for 26 species and 3 multi-species guilds using distance sampling methodology.

Predicted mean density of small delphinoids.

“In the Atlantic, for 11 well-known species, model predictions resembled seasonal movement patterns previously suggested in the literature. For these we produced monthly mean density maps. For lesser-known taxa, and in the Gulf of Mexico, where seasonal movements were less well described, we produced year-round mean density maps. The results revealed high regional differences in small delphinoid densities, confirmed the importance of the continental slope to large delphinoids and of canyons and seamounts to beaked and sperm whales, and quantified seasonal shifts in the densities of migratory baleen whales. The density maps, freely available online, are the first for these regions to be published in the peer-reviewed literature.”