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New York Bight Whale Monitoring Program

New York Offshore Planning Area
New York Offshore Planning Area for the New York
Bight Whale Monitoring Program.
(Click the map for a larger image).

For decades the New York Bight has been considered primarily a migratory pathway for large whale species. As sightings of humpback whales feeding close to shore continue to grow, it has become increasingly evident that the Bight plays a larger role in east coast whale life history than previously thought. In fact, endangered and threatened species of whales can be found year-round in the waters off NY. Information about large whales in the New York Bight is available from prior surveys, whale watching, and stranding records but experts agree more data on occurrence and distribution is needed for adequate management and conservation planning.

The New York Bight is defined as the area of ocean extending from the south shore of Long Island to the continental shelf break, matching the New York Department of State (DOS) Offshore Planning Area. This area is approximately 12,650 square nautical miles and includes state and federal waters. Shipping lanes, high density fishing areas, and offshore wind energy areas are all found within this expanse of ocean. With a rapidly changing ocean ecosystem due to climate change and significant concerns about whales overlapping with expanding human activities, baseline data on large whales is essential to successfully protect these animals while supporting human use.

Program Background

In 2013, DEC joined with the New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) to develop a monitoring program to fulfill the baseline data collection need. To determine the most appropriate survey methods, a NYNHP experts workshop (link leaves DEC's website) was convened in January 2014 consisting of 41 stakeholders from academia, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and state and federal government. The workshop concluded that a combination of visual and acoustic surveys was the best course of action. New York State decided to fund three years of each method: a monthly aerial survey and a year-round passive acoustic survey. This monitoring program, which began in 2017, is the first consistent effort of standardized surveys covering the New York Bight at a fine-scale resolution. The data collected will provide state and federal managers with the best possible information to advise decision making and to develop a long-term monitoring program.

The New York Ocean Action Plan outlines the primary goals of this monitoring program:

  1. Determine the distribution and estimate relative abundance and density of each priority whale species (North Atlantic right whale, fin whale, humpback whale, sei whale, sperm whale, blue whale).
  2. Determine the monthly and seasonal occurrence, and inter-annual variability of the distribution and estimated abundance, density, and relative abundance for each priority whale species.
  3. Record behavioral data of sighted whales as much as possible.
  4. Record sightings of sea turtle species (green, Kemp's ridley, loggerhead, leatherback).

Click the links below to explore each program element:

Priority Whale Species

The monitoring program focuses on the six threatened large whale species (following links leave DEC's website):

With the exception of the humpback whale, which was recently delisted from the Endangered Species Act, all large whale species are federally listed as endangered. All six species are also listed as endangered at the State level, with the humpback whale status under review. These species are also listed as Species of Greatest Conservation Need in the New York State Wildlife Action Plan.

Coordination with Other Surveys

The Whale Monitoring Program coordinates with other entities conducting surveys in the New York Bight area, including the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) acoustic buoy, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) digital aerial survey, and NOAA's Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (AMAPPS). A boat-based survey funded by DEC and operated by a team from Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Science is also collecting data on marine mammals.

Find more information on the surveys occurring in the New York Bight below (all links leave DEC website):

Annual Workshop

As part of the program, the New York Bight Whale Monitoring Workshop is held annually for the duration of the three years of baseline surveys. The workshop's purpose is to provide the results of the Whale Monitoring Program surveys to date and to discuss integration with other surveys and data sets. The meeting reviews the methodology used in the surveys, the data collected over the previous year(s), and the results of all analyses. Time is dedicated to attendees providing feedback and offering input on subsequent years' methodologies and analyses.

More about New York Bight Whale Monitoring Program: