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National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML)

AFSC Quarterly
Research Reports
Oct-Nov-Dec 2006
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NMML Directorate

Workshops to Identify Critical Information Gaps About Marine Mammals in Areas of Interest to the Oil/Gas Industry

In anticipation of considerable new oil and gas exploration and development in Alaska, two workshops were convened by the Department of Interior, Minerals Management Service (MMS), to identify research priorities for assessment of potential impacts on marine mammals of oil and gas leasing in the Chukchi Sea and Bristol Bay. The National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML) made strong contributions to both workshops; Laboratory Director John Bengtson and Deputy Director Robyn Angliss attended both workshops, as did senior staff from the Polar Ecosystem Program (Peter Boveng) and the Cetacean Ecology and Assessment Program (Phil Clapham). The workshops resulted in proposed research for inclusion in the MMS Environmental Studies Plan, which will fill critical gaps in knowledge about the density, distribution, foraging requirements, and response to industrial activities, of ice seals, fur seals, sea lions, and cetaceans. (See research feature article in this issue for related information.)

Evaluation of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) for Cetacean Monitoring

The oil and gas industry must conduct monitoring of marine mammals when involved in offshore activities that have the potential to impact marine mammals, particularly bowhead whales. Aerial line transect surveys are one traditional method of conducting the monitoring. Due to concerns about human safety in small aircraft in some remote Arctic areas (such as over the Chukchi Sea), the oil and gas industry has proposed to use unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in lieu of manned surveys.

In December, Angliss observed two evaluations of UAS for use in surveying for cetaceans. In both cases, surveys were conducted in Puget Sound, Washington, using an InSitu ScanEagle platform carrying a camera that streams video to a monitor where objects can be seen and recorded by human observers. Surveys were conducted over man-made targets (anchored kayaks and buoys) and were flown at various altitudes and in various weather conditions. The evaluations were necessary first steps in assessing the utility of the system as a monitoring tool. Additional evaluations of the UAS that involve surveys of cetaceans and direct comparisons between sightings from a UAS and sightings from a manned aircraft are needed.

By Robyn Angliss

Outreach and Education

In November and December 2006, Harriet Huber, NMML representative to the AFSC Committee for Outreach, Education, and Diversity, helped to develop a curriculum for third grade teachers in Seattle based on the story of Springer, an orphaned orca whale, reunited with her pod by a consortium of agencies lead by NOAA.

Springer, part of the northern resident pod of orca whales, was found alone in the ferry lanes in Seattle in winter 2002. She was successfully translocated back to her pod in summer 2002. The curriculum includes a picture book on the Springer story, a video on the translocation produced by NOAA, background information on Springer and Luna (separated from the southern resident pod), northern and southern resident ranges, games to teach about food webs and bioaccumulation, a web-based elementary research project, maps, photos, a visit from a NMML scientist, and a visit to the NMML marine mammal museum. The curriculum is being developed as a pilot project to be tested in three Seattle schools between February and May 2007.

By Harriet Huber


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