Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Surveys

Background

Under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4371 et seq.), the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and other relevant federal agencies are required to integrate environmental assessments into offshore development and construction plans. Offshore wind energy planning and development requires comprehensive assessments of biological resources within development areas to identify and mitigate any potential effects of that development on marine species.

In anticipation of these requirements, MassCEC hired the New England Aquarium (NEAq) through a competitive procurement process in early 2011 to conduct aerial and acoustic surveys of endangered whales and turtles in the Massachusetts wind energy area.  Upon conclusion of these initial surveys (Campaign 1), MassCEC and BOEM extended the surveys for an additional two years and expanded the geographic scope of the survey area to include the Rhode Island/Massachusetts wind energy area (Campaigns 2 and 3). For these three survey campaigns, 76 aerial surveys were conducted between October 2011 and June 2015.

The final report summarizing Campaigns 1-3 was released in October 2016 and showed that the study area included seasonal aggregations of protected species of whales and sea turtles.  The report also showed that North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis), a critically endangered species, occurred in the study area during winter and spring, with a peak in March.  Based on these findings, the report provided recommendations for managing geological surveys and construction by scheduling those activities during off-peak right whale seasons to mitigate or avoid impacts. The 2016 final report also provided recommendations for additional surveys to address information gaps and for the collection of additional baseline data.

Acting upon the recommendations in the 2016 final report, MassCEC and BOEM committed additional funding and MassCEC contracted with NEAq to conduct additional surveys for the period February 2017 through July 2018 (Campaign 4) and for the period October 2018 through August 2019 (Campaign 5).  These two survey campaigns included oceanographic sampling conducted by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

In 2019 there was a growing recognition among public resource agencies and stakeholders of the need to establish a formal process for funding and managing ongoing wildlife monitoring on a regional basis.  However, to avoid a protracted gap in data collection while efforts to establish such a process advanced, BOEM and offshore wind developers committed funding for additional wildlife surveys beginning in March 2020 and continuing through July 2021 (Campaign 6).  These surveys are funded by BOEM and offshore wind developers Equinor Wind U.S., Mayflower Wind Energy LLC, Ørsted North America and Vineyard Wind.

Survey Process

The wildlife surveys conducted by the New England Aquarium have employed a variety of techniques.  The table below identifies which techniques have been used in specific survey campaigns.

  • Line Transect (Broadscale) – this is the standard methodology for aerial surveys using two trained observers.  Survey flights follows an established set of north-south track lines spaced six nautical miles across the study area.  The starting point is randomly selected for each survey.
  • Condensed Survey – a line transect survey with three nm spacing and covering a smaller geographic area which is selected based upon anecdotal evidence of right whale activity.
  • Photographic – all aerial surveys include automatic collection of photographic data from a high resolution camera mounted in the belly of the survey airplane.
  • Acoustic Recording – deployment of “marine autonomous recording units” which record data on whale calls for two six month periods.  Analysis of the data reveals distinct whale call signatures indicating the presence of a specific whale species within a specified “receiving” distance of the buoy (which varies by species). 
  • Oceanographic Survey – to help explain certain congregations of right whales, some surveys have included vessel-based collection of potential food sources such as plankton.
  • Calibration Survey – survey conducted at a higher altitude (e.g. 1,500 feet compared to the standard 1,000 feet) to understand the ability to detect wildlife after wind turbines are installed.

NEAq descriptive video (2020) available here.

 

Survey Period

Line Transect Aerial Survey Condensed Aerial Survey Photographic Acoustic Oceanographic
Campaign 1 10/2011 – 9/2012 Yes (24)   Yes Yes  
Campaign 2 10/2012 – 2/2014 Yes (24)   Yes Yes  
Campaign 3 3/2014 – 6/2015 Yes (28)   Yes Yes  
Campaign 4 2/2017 – 7/2018 Yes (21) Yes (17) Yes   Yes
Campaign 5 10/2018 – 8/2019 Yes (11) Yes (29) Yes   Yes
Campaign 6 3/2020 – 8/2021 Yes Yes Yes    

Data and Reports

The following reports and data are available on-line or upon request via email to offshorewind@masscec.com

 

Report

Format

Online

Upon Request

Campaign 1

Monthly Survey Reports

Campaign One Final Report

Appendices 1-8, 10

Appendix 9 – Sightings Data Table 

pdf

pdf

pdf

xlsx 

X

 

X

 

X

X

Campaign 2

Monthly Survey Reports

Campaign Two Final Report, with Appendices

Appendix 8 – Sightings Data Table

pdf 
 
pdf 
 
xlsx 
X

X

 

X

Campaign 1-3

Campaign Three Monthly Survey Reports

Campaign 1-3 Final Report (BOEM 2016-054)

Appendix A:  Sightings Data

Appendix B:  Sightings Maps

Appendix C:  Aerial Survey Dates and Effort

Appendix D:  SPUE Maps

Appendix E:  North Atlantic Right Whale Individuals

Appendix F:  Monthly Acoustic Presence

Appendix G:  Ambient Noise

pdf

pdf

xlxs

jpg

pdf

jpg

pdf

doxc

doxc

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Campaign 4

Campaign Four Monthly Survey Reports

Campaign Four Final Report and Appendix 1

Appendix 2:  Sighting Data

Appendix 3:  Sighting Point Maps

Appendix 4:  SPUE Maps

pdf

pdf

xlsx

jpg

tif 

X

 

 

X

 

X

X

X

Campaign 5

Campaign Five Monthly Survey Reports

Campaign Five Sightings and Data Report (July 2020)

Campaign Five Final Report (includes sightings and data info. from July 2020 report) 

pdf

pdf

pdf

 

X

X

X

 

X

Campaign 6

Campaign Six Monthly/Quarterly Survey Reports

Campaign Six Final Report (Part A:March 2020 - October 2020)  

Campaign Six Final Report (Part B: November 2020 - August 2021)

pdf

pdf

pdf

 

X

Pending

X

X

Pending

The BOEM environmental studies web page provides access to a broad range of completed studies, available here.