Ocean Community News

New Tool Aids U.S. Conservation and Management of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises

Researchers have identified more than 100 areas within U.S. waters that should be considered biologically important when making management and regulatory decisions about human activities that could affect whales, dolphins and porpoises.

The creation of Biologically Important Areas (BIAs) are described in a special issue of the journal Aquatic Mammals. Expert judgment was combined with published and unpublished data to identify 131 BIAs covering 24 species, stocks or populations in seven regions of the U.S. It is the first time so much information has been brought together for these species in one place and made available to scientists, managers, policymakers and the general public.

“The goal was to identify when and where cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoises - engage in activities that are important to the animal’s physical health and fitness, reproduction and ability to survive as a population,” said Sofie Van Parijs, who heads the passive acoustics group at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) and is guest editor of the special issue. “Scientists and managers can use the information provided about BIAs to help with planning, analyses and decisions regarding how to reduce adverse impacts on cetaceans resulting from human activities.”

BIAs are region, species and time specific and include reproductive and feeding areas, migratory corridors, and areas in which small and resident populations are concentrated. Each BIA includes a written narrative, a map, a list of references, and a table of data that details the type and quantity of information used to define the BIA.

Biologically Important Areas can also be used to identify information gaps and prioritize future research to better understand cetaceans, their habitats and ecosystems. The use of BIAs could also aid conservation and management efforts.

Offshore energy development, military testing and training, shipping, fishing, tourism, and coastal construction are among the human activities of concern for the conservation and management of marine species, especially cetaceans. For example, underwater noise, present at some level in almost every marine activity, can affect large areas over long periods of time.

For more information, visit www.nefsc.noaa.gov/press_release/pr2015/scispot/ss1503/.


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