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Aerial Survey

Click the links to learn more about the Whale Monitoring Program and the Passive Acoustic Survey.

Results & Reports

humpback whale photograph taken from the aerial survey
Aerial photograph of a humpback whale breaching.
(Property of NYSDEC and the aerial survey contractor,
Tetra Tech). Photo by: Kate Lomac-MacNair

The aerial survey data produced distribution, relative abundance, and density maps by month, season, and year, for each species and all species combined. Summaries of sea turtle sightings, environmental data, and large whale behavioral observations were also compiled at the end of the three years.

A comprehensive annual report with data analysis results was done following Years 1 and 2 with a final cumulative report completed following Year 3.


  1. To collect sufficient data to allow robust estimates of spatio-temporal large whale density and abundance for each season
  2. To identify any inter-annual and seasonal variability
  3. Record data about the behavior of sighted whales
  4. To identify any sub-areas within the NYB that are of particular importance to these species and how and when they are used

DEC contracted with Tetra Tech Inc., in coordination with Smultea Environmental Sciences, LGL Ecological Research Associates, Inc. and Aspen Helicopters, Inc., who recently completed conducting 36 monthly aerial line-transect surveys from March 2017 through February 2020.


New York Bight acoustic survey map

The survey team used a small high-wing, twin-engine aircraft with bubble windows flown at 1,000 feet and 100-110 knots. Each survey covered 15 transect lines that run northwest to southeast, extend 110 nautical miles to the continental shelf break, and total approximately 1,530 nautical miles. Transect lines were developed with input from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) for compatibility with their Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species, the probability of coverage based on known species distributions, and estimated minimum sample size requirements for distance sampling.

Video equipment ran in the belly window and a still camera was used to photograph large whale sightings, especially North Atlantic right whales. Sightings of North Atlantic right whales were reported immediately to the Right Whale Sightings Advisory System managed by NOAA. These reported sightings were added to the Interactive North Atlantic Right Whale Sightings Map (leaves DEC website) and any photos that could be used to identify individual right whales were sent to the New England Aquarium for matching to individuals in The North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog (leaves DEC website). Sightings were also contributed to the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium (leaves DEC website) for inclusion in the Photographic Identification Database, which houses all right whale data.