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NOAA: Arctic: Unprecedented numbers of gray whale calves sighted by scientists so far this season

August 2, 2012
NOAA's aerial surveys of arctic marine mammals.
NOAA scientists participating in the annual Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM) project say they have seen an unprecedented number of gray whale calves so far this year.

More than 50 calves have been sighted in just the first month of the survey. Even though some of the calves are undoubtedly repeat sightings, the total number is far higher than normal.

The ASAMM project kicked off about a month ago from Barrow, Alaska, with additional effort based out of Deadhorse beginning mid-July. It covers a massive study area in the Alaskan Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

The goal of the surveys is to document the distribution and relative abundance of bowhead, gray, right, and fin whales, belugas, and other marine mammals in areas of potential oil and natural gas exploration, development, and production activities in the Alaskan Arctic. The research is funded by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

The arctic marine mammal survey team spotted this gray whale cow-calf pair in the Chukchi Sea July 14, 2012. Photo by Cynthia Christman, NOAA. NMFS Permit No. 14245.
NOAA scientists from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center's National Marine Mammal Laboratory will be conducting almost daily flights through October, weather permitting. Survey conditions are sometimes less than optimal in the Arctic but, despite the usual episodes of fog and low cloud ceilings, the survey teams have had much success so far and excellent data have been collected.

Other highlights so far include sightings of bowhead whales in both the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, with five bowhead whale cow-calf pairs in the western Beaufort Sea; several large groups of belugas seen near Kasegaluk Lagoon passes and offshore in slope areas of the western Beaufort Sea; one minke whale sighted near Cape Lisburne; and one feeding humpback whale near Wainwright.

The public can find near real-time updates on the surveys via daily reports that are being posted to the NMML website.

The survey team also assisted the U.S. Geological Survey walrus satellite tag team with finding large groups of walrus on ice that were suitable for tagging, and they are providing the National Sea Ice Center and U.S. Coast Guard with geo-referenced photographs of sea ice—just a couple of ways the project demonstrates good stewardship of taxpayer dollars as federal agencies work collaboratively to gather needed data with overlapping resources.

The ASAMM study collaborates with several other federal, state and local agencies and universities by sharing field resources, data, or information. Those agencies and organizations include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Coast Guard, North Slope Borough, Duke University, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and other entities conducting research in the Arctic.

NOAA's mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.

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