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BOEM Funding and NOAA Science Keep an Eye on Marine Mammals in the Arctic

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NOAA scientists are at the forefront of using new technology, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, to study marine mammal populations. For instance, NOAA scientists are using aerial drones to Spy on Sperm Whales and also to get A Whole new Perspective on life in Antarctica.


NOAA scientists kicked off their annual Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM) project this month, thanks to funding again this year by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). Started in 1979, ASAMM is the longest-running and most extensive ongoing effort by federal agencies to monitor marine mammals in the Arctic.

Scientists will fly transects over the northeastern Chukchi and western Beaufort seas to survey whales and other marine mammals in areas of potential oil and natural gas exploration, development, and production activities. The goal of the surveys is to document the distribution and relative abundance of bowhead, gray, right, fin, and beluga whales, as well as other marine mammals.

The ASAMM project took to the skies July 2 from Barrow, Alaska, with additional effort based out of Deadhorse beginning in mid-July. NOAA scientists from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s National Marine Mammal Laboratory will conduct almost daily flights through October, weather permitting.

Survey conditions are sometimes less than optimal in the Arctic, with periods of fog and low cloud ceilings. High winds and seas can limit visibility and flight safety. Scientists post nearreal-time updates on the surveys online.

ASAMM demonstrates good stewardship of taxpayer dollars, as federal agencies work collaboratively and with limited resources to gather needed data. NOAA and BOEM also collaborate with several other federal, state, and local agencies and universities by sharing field resources, data, and information. For example, the survey team will also help the U.S. Geological Survey’s walrus satellite tag team find large groups of walrus suitable for tagging, and they are providing the National Sea Ice Center and U.S. Coast Guard with geo-referenced photographs of sea ice.

Other agencies and organizations that benefit from this research include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, North Slope Borough, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and other entities conducting research in the Arctic.