Marine Mammal Commission

2019 Grant Awards

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Projects Funded by the Marine Mammal Commission in Fiscal Year 2019

Topic A: Research/Projects - Focal Area: Impacts of a changing ocean on marine mammals of importance to Alaska Natives

Integration of Local or Traditional Knowledge and western science using a Bayesian approach for fully informed models

Auger-Méthé, M.

The University of British Columbia

As climate changes, access to species with significant cultural and subsistence value for Indigenous people in the Arctic is changing, resulting in negative effects on overall community health. Wildlife management decision are increasingly being made with climate change in mind and are often required to consider Local and Traditional Knowledge (LTK) in the decision process.  This study aims to develop an analytical framework via Bayesian statistics that integrates LTK and western science information on wildlife habitat and behavior. LTK interview data will be merged with satellite telemetry data collected from seals in Alaskan waters. The project objectives are to: (1) document LTK about ringed, bearded, and spotted seals from knowledge holders in Kotzebue, AK and Point Hope, AK; (2) analyze the LTK to convert it into a form that can be incorporated into a Bayesian statistical framework; and (3) assess the methodology via feedback from LTK holders. This approach will provide communities with information on species that hold cultural and subsistence importance using an approach that formally includes LTK.

Topic A: Research/Projects

A priority-setting exercise to identify key unanswered research questions in marine mammal bioenergetics

Ortiz, I. and McHuron, L.

The University of Washington

The development of Population Consequences of Acoustic Disturbance (PCAD)/ Population Consequence of Disturbance (PCoD) models to assess the potential impact of disturbance on marine mammals has primarily relied on the use of bioenergetic models.  The goal of this project is to conduct a priority-setting exercise, using a horizon scanning approach, to identify key unanswered questions within the field of marine mammal bioenergetics that can help direct future research efforts.  This exercise is designed to be conducted in coordination with a Marine Mammal Bioenergetics Workshop that will bring together individuals who are either well-grounded in marine mammal metabolic physiology or are actively involved in developing PCoD bioenergetic models. Project outcomes include identifying key unanswered questions in marine mammal bioenergetics, and will provide a roadmap for researchers and other organizations in directing future high-priority research efforts.

New and immediate research priorities to inform gear modification proposals for the 2019 North Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team Meeting

Werner, T.

New England Aquarium

Ropes used in pot and gillnet fisheries cause fatal entanglements of protected and endangered species, including baleen whales. In the case of the endangered North Atlantic right whale (NARW) (Eubalaena glacialis), these entanglements are the principal threat to population recovery.  This project will investigate research priorities, identified by the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team process, related to modifying rope and lobster fishing gear to reduce NARW entanglement risk. The research priorities to be investigated are: 1) Test reduced breaking strength rope with offshore fishermen; 2) Model configurations of pot gear that have different numbers and spacing of weak links; 3) Compare ease of different splices and rope attachments sliding through NARW baleen; 4) Review entanglement cases since 2010 to assess gear part, gear type, rope length, and fate relative to all cases from 1980-2016.

Collection of auditory evoked potential hearing thresholds in minke whales

Houser, D.

National Marine Mammal Foundation

Auditory capabilities of mysticetes are poorly understood. This project aims to collect auditory evoked potential (AEP) hearing thresholds for a mysticete, the minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata). The minke whale AEP hearing thresholds will provide the first direct measurement of hearing in a mysticete and will contribute to the development of a mysticete audiogram. This multi-year project is jointly funded by the Chief of Naval Operations Energy and Environment Readiness Division, Office of Naval Research, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Marine Mammal Commission.

Topic B: Conferences, Symposia, Workshops, Meetings, and Publications – Focal Area: Impacts of a changing ocean on marine mammals of importance to Alaska Natives

Life without ice: perceptions of environmental impacts on marine mammals and subsistence users of St. Lawrence Island

Larsen, J.

University of Alaska Fairbanks

The Bering Sea, which provides habitat for approximately 30 marine mammal species, is undergoing rapid environmental change. Changes in the timing and abundance of subsistence hunts and harvests have been recorded, as well as shifting distributions of fish and marine mammal stocks; however, research is lacking on how stakeholders are affected by these changes.  This project will conduct interviews with marine mammal subsistence users on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska with the goal of capturing the perceptions of experts as well as community residents on how environmental change is impacting marine mammal subsistence harvests. The research component of this project is focused on 5 research questions as they relate to marine mammals: 1) what marine mammal subsistence resources are depended upon most in these communities? 2) In what ways have these species changed? 3) How are households responding to changes? 4) What does the future of subsistence look like to users? 5) What are the attitudes toward anthropogenic activities in the region as it relates to food security and community livelihoods?  In addition to researching perceptions, the investigators will engage in community outreach efforts focused on the community’s concerns about the preservation of St. Lawrence Island culture and language. Student led projects will be developed to focus on documenting marine mammal subsistence culture through storytelling and art, and results incorporated into a Yupik curriculum during the 2019-2020 school year.

Topic B: Conferences, Symposia, Workshops, Meetings, and Publications

Support for the development of an action plan for the critically endangered Ryukyu Islands Dugong population

Taishaku, H.

Toba Aquarium

Support provided for an IUCN Sirenia Specialist Group workshop at the Toba Aquarium in Ise City, Japan, to develop an action plan for the world’s northernmost dugong population in the Ryukyu Archipelago. This population is considered to be at serious and imminent risk of extinction.  The action plan will summarize the latest information on dugongs and their habitats in the archipelago and outline future protection and enforcement needs. The plan will be provided to the Nature Conservation Section, Environment Department, Okinawa Prefectural government to inform the conservation of dugongs and their habitats in the Ryukyu region. See link to action plan.