Final Report: How and why is the timing and occurrence of seasonal migrants in the Gulf of Maine changing due to climate?
This study sought to advance our understanding of the responses of large migratory whales and other marine wildlife to climate change by examining species-specific shifts in timing of migration and habitat use. We used long-term historical datasets to measure changes in timing of seasonal habitat use in the Gulf of Maine (GOM) ecosystem by North Atlantic right (Eubalaena glacialis), fin (Balaenoptera physalus), humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae), and minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata). Occupancy modeling, spatial analyses, and synthetic approaches evaluated changes in the seasonal habitat use by large migratory whales, changes in risk of whale interactions with human activities such as shipping and fishing as well as how environmental and anthropogenic changes in the region are affecting sand lance (Ammodytes sp.), a key forage fish for whales and other marine predators. Target species in this study are of significant concern to management due to their status under the Endangered Species Act and protections provided under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Results are intended to inform management and conservation decisions about how to increasingly include information on species responses to climate change through shifts in phenology and distribution as part of marine spatial planning, fishery management, and protective actions such as seasonal management areas for endangered and listed species.