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Distribution and abundance of cetaceans in a wind energy development area offshore of Massachusetts and Rhode Island

Abstract

Two wind energy areas (WEAs), designated by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, offshore of Massachusetts and Rhode Island were surveyed between October 2011 and June 2015. A total of 969 cetacean sightings of over 10,000 animals were documented during systematic line-transect aerial surveys (67,525 km flown). Twelve cetacean species were documented, including seven odontocete and five mysticete species. Cetaceans were recorded in all seasons demonstrating inter-annual, seasonal, and spatial use of the WEAs. Peak presence occurred in the spring and summer for most species, with the exception of North Atlantic right whales, which occurred primarily in the winter and spring. Right and sei whales were documented regularly throughout the study and in higher numbers than expected. Seasonal estimates of abundance were calculated for seven species, including five baleen whales (fin, minke, humpback, right, and sei) and two dolphins (common and bottlenose). The results suggest the area is a previously underestimated seasonal habitat for cetaceans including several endangered baleen whale species. These data will help inform mitigation strategies for future wind energy development. Climate change effects, increased coastal urbanization, and other factors argue for continued monitoring of cetaceans in the WEAs offshore of New England.

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Acknowledgements

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management supported this study under Cooperative Agreement number M12 AC00. Scientists and observers who participated in this work include J. Taylor, T. Montgomery, O. O’Brien, M. Hagbloom, R. Lynch, and L. Crowe, J. Thompson, S. Leiter, and K. Stone. We thank them all for their contributions to data collection and data processing. We are grateful to our collaborators at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, including C. Clark, A. Rice, B. Estabrook and J. Tielens. These surveys would not have been possible without the extraordinary efforts of EnviroEye LLC (formerly ASSIST Aviation Solutions LLC), particularly pilots Aiden Seltsam-Wilps, Keith Lapierre, Don Turner, and Dan Fields.

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Correspondence to Kelsey M. Stone.

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Stone, K.M., Leiter, S.M., Kenney, R.D. et al. Distribution and abundance of cetaceans in a wind energy development area offshore of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. J Coast Conserv 21, 527–543 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11852-017-0526-4

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Keywords

  • Cetaceans
  • Distribution and abundance
  • Wind energy development
  • New England
  • Baleen whale
  • Toothed whale
  • Aerial survey