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NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-AFSC-237

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Summary of systematic bowhead surveys conducted in the U.S.Beaufort and Chukchi Seas,1975-2009


Nearly 200 systematic studies involving bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) were conducted in the United States (U.S.) Beaufort and Chukchi seas from 1975 to 2009. Most (67 %) of these studies were associated with monitoring and mitigation relative to offshore oil and gas exploration and development.  A compilation of this information has been needed to determine anthropogenic impacts to the species throughout its range in Arctic and subarctic waters, including facts for required environmental impact assessment determinations.  As a part of the Bowhead Whale Feeding Ecology Study (BOWFEST) conducted by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML) for the Minerals Management Service (MMS) (now called Bureau of Ocean Energy Management [BOEM]), a comprehensive review and compilation was undertaken of all prominent scientific surveys that systematically recorded bowhead whales in the U.S. Beaufort and Chukchi seas from 1975 to 2008 (and some from early 2009).   Given the cumulative number of such studies and the predicted continued growth of industrial activities in this region, our goals were to provide: (1) a summary for historical comparisons; (2) a format to integrate and track the studies; and (3) a publicly available starting point to identify data of relevance to ongoing work. To address these goals, we compiled a list synthesizing past and ongoing systematic sighting/acoustic detection studies on bowheads. This compilation included data derived from aerial surveys for whale distribution, aerial photography, ice‐ and shore‐based census efforts, vessel‐based and tagging efforts, and monitoring associated with offshore oil and gas exploration, development, and operations. This information is directly relevant to fulfilling the goals of current inter‐disciplinary efforts to study bowhead ecology (e.g., BOEM‐funded studies such as BOWFEST, Bowhead Whale Aerial Survey Project (BWASP), and Chukchi Offshore Monitoring in Drilling Area [COMIDA]) relative to ongoing, proposed, and anticipated offshore oil and gas activities in BOEM’s Beaufort and Chukchi Sea planning areas. Our intent is to provide a comprehensive resource to serve as a foundation for the integration of past and ongoing bowhead studies relative to industrial activities, mitigation, and management. It is also meant to assist and improve the flow of scientific information between interested entities and the public, leading eventually to an integration of research on bowhead whales.

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