Marine Mammal Commission

2020 Grant Awards

Grant Awards by Fiscal Year: 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011Previous Years

Projects Funded by the Marine Mammal Commission in Fiscal Year 2020

Topic A: Research/Projects

Mortality reduction of vaquita, Phocoena sinus, through removal of abandoned, lost, or discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) and deterrence of illegal fishing in the Vaquita Protection Refuge

Gonzalez Olimon, C.

Cat Action Treasury, Inc.

Vaquitas are at extreme risk of extinction, with an estimated minimum population of fewer than 20 individuals.  This project aims to reduce fishery-related mortality of vaquita by deploying teams of local fishers to locate and remove ALDFG  (primarily gillnets) that are a direct entanglement threat to the surviving vaquitas. It is anticipated that the presence of these gear-removal teams will have a complementary deterrent effect on illegal fishing.

Evaluating the efficacy of using broad-scale ship speed restrictions in the U.S. East Coast Exclusive Economic Zone for reducing large whale mortalities

Knowlton, A.

New England Aquarium

Lethal vessel strikes of large whales are of considerable concern along the U.S. East Coast, especially for the endangered North Atlantic right whale and the threatened Atlantic humpback whale populations. Although numerous voluntary and mandatory measures have been put into place to protect right whales, the effectiveness of these mitigation measures has been reduced by changing right whale distributions and variable surveillance efforts. In addition, humpback whales are facing an Unusual Mortality Event and many of these deaths are due to vessel strikes. This project will involve in-depth data processing to create vessel transits and estimate vessel speeds from the AIS data points, assessing the present risk based on speed and the probability of a lethal strike within the U.S. East Coast Exclusive Economic Zone (USEC-EEZ), and estimating the percentage change in the risk of a lethal strike assuming reduced vessel speeds. General patterns of large whale distributions within the USEC-EEZ will be used to evaluate where such speed reduction might be most effective at reducing risk (e.g., on the shelf). Findings will be provided to U.S. agencies, such as NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Coast Guard, and shared internationally with Canada and the International Maritime Organization via U.S. delegates for consideration as a tool for addressing the threat of ship traffic to large whales.

Evaluating the utility of Protected Species Observer data to address cetacean management and conservation

Redfern, J.

New England Aquarium

Protected Species Observers (PSOs) are commonly used worldwide to monitor and protect marine mammals and sea turtles during anthropogenic activities. These observers play an important role in species monitoring and mitigation, but they also collect a broad suite of data that have the potential to expand our understanding of species distributions, the effectiveness of mitigation measures, and the effects of industrial activities on protected species. The Massachusetts and Rhode Island (MA/RI) wind energy areas (WEAs) off the southern coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island represent an important opportunity to evaluate the use of PSO data because collection of PSO data in these areas has occurred in the same time window as collection of systematic, line-transect aerial surveys. This project will summarize the PSO data available in the MA/RI WEAs and compare the PSO data to data collected by aerial surveys. The results of this project will include recommendations about how PSO data can be collected to provide the greatest conservation value for protected species and recommendations about how PSO data can be utilized for regulatory/management and scientific purposes. These recommendations will help inform the development of a protocol that standardizes the collection of PSO data and enables the use of PSO data in scientific analyses that evaluate the effectiveness of management and mitigation efforts for future activities regulated under both the ESA and MMPA for the conservation of protected species.

Systematic analysis of injuries sustained by rorquals (humpback, fin and minke whales) from documented entanglements off the U.S. East Coast

Robbins, J.

Center for Coastal Studies

Entanglement in fishing gear is a documented source of human impact on baleen whales; however, the frequency of events can be challenging to assess. This project will conduct a systematic analysis of injuries on rorquals witnessed carrying gear off the U.S. East Coast, focusing on over 400 cases involving humpback, fin and minke whales observed while entangled since 2001. Those with suitable image data will be scored as to the nature and body location of injuries relative to gear configuration and gear deployment history. The results of this study will be submitted for publication with an image-rich guide to entanglement injuries to assist practitioners in accurately identifying entanglement injuries in rorquals. These methods will allow comparison to scar-based entanglement rates among North Atlantic right whales, but will also be applicable to a wider range of species and populations worldwide.

Protecting the sentinels of the Peruvian Sea: Electronic monitoring and mitigation measures to reduce cetacean bycatch in the most important fishery of Peru

Vargas, E.

World Wildlife Fund, Inc.

Bycatch in fisheries is a conservation threat to several species of marine mammals in the waters of Peru, including dusky dolphins, Burmeister’s porpoises, longbeaked common dolphins, and common bottlenose dolphins. This project will focus on development of a monitoring and mitigation pilot project that will support the use of digital logbooks, remote electronic monitoring (REM) cameras, and best practices for handling and releasing bycaught cetaceans. These actions will be developed with the participation of the fishing vessel crew, and will be reflected in the preparation of an instruction manual for companies and their crew, which will allow registering, quantifying and establishing mitigation measures to address the cetacean bycatch in these fisheries.  Results of this pilot project will be presented to the Peruvian government (Ministry of Production of Peru and the Institute of the Peruvian Sea) along with policy recommendations to minimize bycatch.

Support for surveys and necropsies of gray whales in México during an Unusual Mortality Event

Urbán Ramírez, J

Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur

In 2019, there was a significant increase in the number of gray whales stranded along the west coast of North America, ranging from Mexico to Alaska. Immediately preceding this increase in strandings, the number of calves born in the lagoons of Baja California in January 2019 was unusually low.  These changes resulted in the declaration of an Unusual Mortality Event of gray whales by the National Marine Fisheries Service. As with previous events at the end of the 1990’s this event is likely to continue into 2020 if it is linked to changing environmental conditions in Arctic seas. To ensure adequate data are collected in 2020, field researchers along the west coast of North America are increasing efforts to count whales, assess their nutritional condition and necropsy stranded animals includes government and academic entities in Mexico and Canada.

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

Resource User Outreach on Molokai for Cooperative Conservation and Long-term Management of Hawaiian Monk Seals

Jenkinson, R.

Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources

Hawaiian monk seals in the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI) are exposed to a variety of threats including entanglement, disease, fisheries interactions, and even intentional killings, which limit the species recovery. This project will enhance the conservation and recovery of Hawaiian monk seals in the MHI by mitigating interactions between the public and seals via continued outreach and information dissemination programs along the shoreline and at targeted fishing tournaments. Increased shoreline monitoring for seals and in-situ fisher outreach will occur on Molokai, and the continued support and promotion of barbless hook use will be encouraged.  This project will help increase monk seal management efforts, decrease seal disturbances and/or take, and an increase awareness of the conservation planning process by the public, particularly through relationship-building and outreach on Molokai.