October 2011

Field Studies of Whales and Sea Turtles for Offshore Wind Energy Planning in Federal Waters South and West of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket
In early 2011, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), in partnership with the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), requested proposals for field survey work to characterize the marine resources in federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. This is an area of government and private industry interest for wind energy development. Before permitting offshore wind energy facilities, Massachusetts and federal agencies want to determine how the area is used by large whales (especially North Atlantic right whales), sea turtles, and pelagic birds. The New England Aquarium (NEAq), Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS), University of Rhode Island (URI), and Cornell University informally organized as the Northeast Large Pelagic Survey Collaborative (NLPSC) and responded to the MassCEC proposal.

In September the MassCEC awarded the work to the NLPSC, with the New England Aquarium as Principal Investigator. The goals are to characterize the abundance, movement and habitat use of large whales and sea turtles in the area. This information is being collected utilizing a combination of aerial surveys, photographic surveys, and underwater acoustic recording devices. The aerial surveys and data analyses are being conducted by NEAq and PCCS aerial observers.

During the next 12-month period, two aerial surveys will be conducted each month consisting of eight 36 nautical mile tracklines running north to south with seven nautical miles cross legs (see figure below). In addition to the goals stated above, when North Atlantic right whales are observed they will be circled and photographed by an observer. This will allow scientists to identify individuals and obtain demographic information about the right whales utilizing this area.

ModSurveyPlan

Additional information about the project and current activities can be found on the New England Aquarium’s website.