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Aerial Survey

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


  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 (link 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 (link leaves DEC website). Sightings were also contributed to the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium (link leaves DEC website) for inclusion in the Photographic Identification Database, which houses all right whale data.


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.

A brief report summarizing effort and sightings was completed after each monthly survey.

Please see the table below for all survey reports:

Monthly Reports for New York Bight Whale Monitoring Aerial Surveys
Year 1 Year 2 Year 3
March 2017 (PDF) March 2018 (PDF) March 2019 (PDF)
April 2017 (PDF) April 2018 (PDF) April 2019 (PDF)
May 2017 (PDF) May 2018 (PDF) May 2019 (PDF)
June 2017 (PDF) June 2018 (PDF) June 2019 (PDF)
July 2017 (PDF) July 2018 (PDF) July 2019 (PDF)
August 2017 (PDF) August 2018 (PDF) August 2019 (PDF)
September 2017 (PDF) September 2018 (PDF) September 2019 (PDF)
October 2017 (PDF) October 2018 (PDF) October 2019 (PDF)
November 2017 (PDF) November 2018 (PDF) November 2019 (PDF)
December 2017 (PDF) December 2018 (PDF) December 2019 (PDF)
January 2018 (PDF) January 2019 (PDF) January 2020 (PDF)
February 2018 (PDF) February 2019 (PDF) February 2020 (PDF)
Year One Annual Report (PDF) Year Two Annual Report (PDF) Year Three Final Report (PDF)
Year Three Report Figures & Appendix (PDF)

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  • Meghan Rickard
    New York Natural Heritage Program & Division of Marine Resources
    205 North Belle Mead Road, Suite 1, East Setauket, NY 11733
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