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Residency, demographics, and movement patterns of North Atlantic right whales Eubalaena glacialis in an offshore wind energy development area in southern New England, USA

, S Leiter, Tvn Cole, Mn Hagbloom, Ar Knowlton, P Nagelkirk, O O’Brien, Cb Khan, Ag Henry, Pa Duley,
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Abstract: Offshore wind energy development is growing quickly around the world. In southern New England, USA, one of the largest commercial offshore wind energy farms in the USA will be established in the waters off Massachusetts and Rhode Island, an area used by the Critically Endangered North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis. Prior to 2011, little was known about the use of this area by right whales. We examined aerial survey data collected between 2011-2015 and 2017-2019 to quantify right whale distribution, residency, demography, and movements in the region. Right whale occurrence increased during the study period. Since 2017, whales have been sighted in the area nearly every month, with peak sighting rates between late winter and spring. Model outputs suggest that 23% of the species’ population is present from December through May, and the mean residence time has tripled to an average of 13 d during these months. Age and sex ratios of the individuals present in the area are similar to those of the species as a whole, with adult males the most common demographic group. Movement models showed that southern New England is an important destination for right whales, including conceptive and reproductive females, and qualitative observations included animals feeding and socializing. Implementing mitigation procedures in coordination with these findings will be crucial in lessening the potential impacts on right whales from construction noise, increased vessel traffic, and habitat disruption in this region.
Keywords: right whales / southern New England / wind / offshore / USA

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