Scientists identify areas with high diversity of marine mammals

Observations of more than one million marine mammals in the state-protected Northeast Canyon and Seamount Marine National Monument, as well as locations along the Atlantic coast, were used to identify areas of high marine mammal diversity. These results highlight the importance of ocean conservation as these waters face increasing pressure from human activities.

In a new study published in Science and practice of conservationNew England Aquarium scientists studied marine mammal sightings to better understand habitat use along the east coast of the United States. The research team used aerial and boat data from the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium conducted by 49 organizations between 1979 and 2020 to calculate marine mammal species diversity in the North Atlantic Ocean between Florida and Nova Scotia, Canada. The dataset contained 189,175 observations of over a million animals belonging to 30 unique species or species groups.

They found that high species diversity was more common in the northern Atlantic coast, especially around the monument, at the edge of the continental shelf, and across the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank. “It was very exciting to see these results,” said Brooke S. Hodge, lead author of the study and Associate Scientist of the Spatial Ecology, Mapping and Assessment (EcoMap) Program at the Anderson Cabot Ocean Center. Aquarium. .. “Our research shows us that Monument is diverse compared to the East Coast. It is clearly well located and protects a unique and diverse community of marine mammals. »

Last October, the Biden-Harris administration restored the monument’s federal protection status, which had been removed by the previous administration. The almost 5,000 square mile underwater reserve is located 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod and is home to vibrant deep sea ecosystems that include endangered coral reefs, fish and whales. In 2016, Aquarium scientists presented compelling scientific evidence that contributed to the monument’s original designation under President Obama. In 2021, Aquarium scientists studied the effects of deprotection of the monument and demonstrated that the opening of the monument to fisheries increases the risk of entanglement, bycatch and habitat destruction for species from the sea surface to the seabed.

In this study, the scientists found that species diversity was highest in the northern and mid-Atlantic regions, with the steep rims of the continental shelf. Canyons and areas of high salinity and low temperatures also featured a high diversity of marine mammals. “Well-designed and effectively managed marine protected areas can contribute to conservation success,” Hodge said. In the study, the authors write: “Our analyzes contribute to efforts to identify MPAs (Marine Protected Areas) for the conservation of habitats that are important for species protection by identifying biodiversity drivers and potential sites to protect 30% of plants by 2030. The Biden-Harris administration has set a goal of protecting 30% of US federal land and waters by 2030.

“Identifying MPAs in our study area is critical because the waters off the east coast of the United States are heavily exploited by humans for fishing, shipping, planned wind power development, and features that support marine mammal feeding are particularly threatened,” the researchers said. wrote in the study. “The Gulf of Maine is one of the fastest warming marine ecosystems in the world, and there are already signs of changing productivity. MPAs need to be defined and effective management measures implemented to achieve the goal of protecting areas of particular importance for biodiversity. protect marine mammals and the ecosystems on which they depend. However, the authors acknowledge that further research is needed to better characterize the diversity of marine mammal species in these areas and to assess the biodiversity of the wider wildlife community and habitat such as seabirds, deep sea invertebrates, deep sea corals, sponges. , and fish.

The study was co-authored by several New England Aquarium scientists: Daniel E. Pendleton, Research Associate; Laura S. Ganley, Postdoctoral Fellow; Orflight “Eagle” O’Brien, Associate Research Fellow; Scott D. Kraus, Distinguished Scholar; and Jessica W. Redfern, Senior Scientist and Chair of the Spatial Ecology, Mapping and Assessment Program. Esther Quintana-Rizzo of Simmons University also contributed to the study.

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