[MARMAM] Update from NOAA re Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill and cetaceans
Laura.Engleby at noaa.gov
Wed Jul 21 14:46:57 PDT 2010
Dear MARMAM subscribers,
NOAA Fisheries Service would like to provide an update on cetacean
science and conservation activities being implemented by NOAA and
partners in the Gulf of Mexico that are related to the Deepwater Horizon
(DWH) BP oil spill event. These activities include: (1) ensuring
effective stranding response and data collection by enhancing
capabilities with multiple partners along the northern Gulf coast; (2)
conducting synoptic aerial assessments surveys for marine mammals and
sea turtles; (3) conducting vessel based assessments of bottlenose
dolphins in coastal estuaries in the impacted area; (4) conducting
visual health assessment and monitoring of dolphins in high risk areas;
(5)* *collecting data to determine impacts on the Endangered Species Act
(ESA)-listed sperm whale and other protected marine mammals in the Gulf
and (6) ensuring information is available in a timely manner.
*Ensuring effective stranding response *
NOAA Fisheries Service and USFWS are integral parts of the Wildlife
Branch of the Unified Command in both Houma, LA, and Mobile, AL, which
actively coordinate response to any dead, stranded, or live cetacean or
manatee in distress. Our partners include all local state agencies and
authorized organizations from the Southeast U.S. Marine Mammal Stranding
Network. National Stranding Network members and organizations and other
non-governmental organizations are also providing expertise and
personnel to further enhance capabilities throughout the northern Gulf.
Established protocols and procedures for treating marine wildlife
impacted by oil have been developed by NOAA and its partners and have
been adapted to address the particular needs of this event.
Because of the various research and clean up efforts, there are also
many individuals making observations along the entire northern Gulf
coast. A wildlife hotline for reporting oiled, injured, distressed, or
dead marine mammals, sea turtles, or birds (866-557-140), has been
established and is working well; all reports are documented, and/or
investigated by the appropriate wildlife response personnel. The
current spill response area is from the Louisiana/Texas border to the
Apalachicola area of Florida. The spill response area is evaluated
based on the trajectories of the oil, the biology of the species, and
the longer term outlooks. Three primary de-oiling/rehabilitation
facilities have been established (LA, MS, and FL).
Between April 30, 2010 and July 20, 2010, there have been 67 total
verified marine mammal stranding events; 61 were dead stranded dolphins,
5 were live stranded dolphins and one dead floating sperm whale
offshore. No manatee strandings have been reported within the spill
response area. For details on marine mammal stranding data visit:
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/oilspill.htm. This website is an
excellent resource and includes maps of stranding locations, species,
oil versus not oiled, numbers of animals necropsied, and other
informaton regarding marine mammals, sea turtles and the DWH BP oil
Prior to the oil spill, this year (2010) has already had unusually high
stranding rates for bottlenose dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
In the months of March and April, bottlenose dolphin strandings were at
or above average stranding rates in the Florida panhandle, Alabama,
Mississippi, and Louisiana. NOAA was in the process of initiating
consultation with the Working Group for Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality
Events at the time of the DWH BP oil spill, to determine whether a UME
should be declared. That consultation was not completed as it was
overcome by the actual spill itself.
*Synoptic aerial surveys for assessing marine mammals and sea turtles in
the region of the DWH oil spill incident*
As part of the Natural Resources Damage Assessment pre-assessment
efforts, on 28 April, NOAA initiated aerial surveys to assess the marine
mammal and sea turtle species occurring within areas likely to be
affected by oil from the DWH BP oil spill, including coastal and
continental shelf waters between central Louisiana and Pensacola Bay,
Florida. These surveys continue as oil has impacted nearly this entire
region to various degrees. The goal of the surveys is to monitor the
near-term changes in marine mammal and sea turtle spatial distribution
and abundance in response to the oil. The flights are conducted from a
NOAA Twin Otter along predetermined track lines that cover the coastal
and adjacent continental shelf waters. The surveys are conducted at 600
feet and a speed of 100 knots. Flight duration ranges from 4-6 hours.
All marine mammal and sea turtles sightings are recorded along with the
occurrence and appearance of any oil. Data collected from the Twin
Otter surveys will allow quantitative estimation of the abundance and
spatial distribution of marine mammals and sea turtles within the
surveyed area. These data can be used to infer broadscale changes in
population size or shifts in spatial distribution and thereby directly
quantify potential impacts of the incident on these protected species.
These surveys cover the entire study area twice a month and will
continue through August 2010, and potentially longer.
*Vessel based assessments of bottlenose dolphins in coastal estuaries. *
Soon after the DWH BP oil spill, NOAA also initiated vessel based
assessments of bottlenose dolphins in several coastal areas where oil
impacts were anticipated. The ongoing assessments include sampling of
dolphin tissues to assess contaminant concentrations and examine stock
structure and photo-identification surveys for mark-recapture analysis
to document changes in abundance and examine survival and fecundity.
The researchers also monitor for signs of distress or abnormal
behavior. Four areas have been targeted for this research- Chandeleur
Sound, LA, Barataria Bay, LA, Mississippi Sound, MS and AL. A fourth
site along the Florida panhandle (St. Joseph Bay) was added in
collaboration with Chicago Zoological Society. These areas were chosen
based on forecasted oil trajectories, and/or because of existing
historical, long-term information on the bottlenose dolphin stocks from
*Visual health assessment and monitoring of coastal dolphins*
Teams are conducting marine mammal behavioral and visual health
assessment response surveys in high-risk areas to monitor dolphins for
potential signs of distress and provide rapid notification to the
wildlife hotline should such distressed animals are detected. Although
severely limited in our ability to move dolphins out of their natural
habitats in response to the oil spill, NOAA and partners are doing
everything we can to help animals if they are in distress and learn as
much as possible about how dolphins respond to and might be affected by
an oil spill. Thus far, there have not been any confirmed bottlenose
dolphins in distress or showing compromised health.
*Large-vessel surveys to determine impacts on endangered and other
protected Marine Mammals in the Gulf*
This NOAA ship-based study focuses on sperm whales and other marine
mammals in the deep-water habitats of the north-central Gulf of Mexico
impacted by the oil spill. Objectives include: (1) documenting
incidence of whale and dolphin exposure to oil; (2) documenting sperm
whale and Bryde's whale distribution and residence patterns related to
oil and other factors; (3) developing information on population dynamics
and stock structure of sperm whales and Bryde's whales; and (4)
collecting habitat information and characterizing water column
productivity and prey resources. Methods include photo-documentation,
visual and long-term passive acoustic monitoring (utilizing HARP and
MARU), satellite tagging, and tissue biopsies. The satellite tagging is
being conducted in partnership with Oregon State University. The
passive acoustic monitoring efforts are being conducted in partnership
with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Cornell University. The
study areas include the deep waters of the north-central Gulf of Mexico,
focusing on the high-use areas for sperm whales, Bryde's whales and
other marine mammals. **
*Ensuring information is available online*
The following websites include valuable information to keep interested
parties informed about NOAA efforts and all other aspects of the oil spill:
This website focuses on protected species, specifically marine mammals
and sea turtles. Users can find excel data sheets, maps, and other
current information about marine mammals and the oil spill as well as
We strongly recommend bookmarking this page and referring to it
frequently for marine mammal updates.
This is the official site of the Unified Command Center for the DWH BP
This is the official federal portal for the Deepwater Horizon BP oil
spill response and recovery. This site provides the public with
information on the response, current operations, news and updates, how
to file a claim and obtain other assistance, and links to federal, state
and local partners.
This website, updated daily, contains information about Federal
fisheries closures in the Gulf of Mexico and fact sheets about fish
stocks, protected resources, and habitat in the Gulf.
This site provides imagery acquired by the NOAA Remote Sensing Division
of the Gulf Coast following the Deepwater Horizon Incident.
This website provides information about natural resource damage
assessments conducted by NOAA.
This website provides NOAA images and video related to the oil spill.
The Incident News website provides publicly available information
related to oil and hazardous material spills, both current and
historical. It is developed and maintained by NOAA.
Maps and graphics shown here help scientists, managers, and decision
makers, understand more where the water is going, its properties and how
they change over time.
Geoplatform integrates the latest data the federal responders have about
the oil spill's trajectory with fishery area closures, wildlife data and
place-based Gulf Coast resources--such as pinpointed locations of oiled
shoreline and current positions of deployed research ships--into one
customizable interactive map.
Source for NOAA data related to the oil spill.
We hope this information is helpful to everyone and greatly appreciate
all the incredible help and contributions from the marine mammal community.
If you have questions, please feel free to contact me
<mailto:laura.engleby at noaa.gov>.
Laura K. Engleby
Marine Mammal Branch Chief
Protected Resources Division
NOAA Fisheries Service
263 13th Ave South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
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