Predicted distribution of whales at risk: identifying priority areas to enhance cetacean monitoring in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Using long-term data from government, non-government, academic, and industry sources, we developed species distribution models (SDMs) to predict priority areas in which to target and enhance blue whale Balaenoptera musculus and northern bottlenose whale Hyperoodon ampullatus monitoring efforts in eastern Canada. Priority areas for blue whales were located primarily on the Scotian Shelf and along the south shelf break in waters off Newfoundland. Priority areas for northern bottlenose whales were identified primarily in areas along the edges of the eastern Scotian Shelf and the Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves, in submarine canyons, and deep basins. The SDM results and the tools presented in this study indicate that there are few conservation areas in eastern Canada that currently protect whales at risk, and that priority areas for blue and northern bottlenose whales overlap with regions where noise-producing activities (shipping and seismic exploration) occur. This study also highlighted large gaps in the cetacean data related to human activities (e.g. seismic survey lines are outdated and recent information from the past 5 to 10 yr is not available). The SDM approach developed in this study can be used as an iterative, adaptive process by including updated data as it becomes available, further refining and validating the SDM results and thereby improve our understanding of the distribution of cetaceans and noise-producing activities in eastern Canada.