Absolute probability estimates of lethal vessel strikes to North Atlantic right whales in Roseway Basin, Scotian Shelf
van der Hoop, Julie M.
Vanderlaan, Angelia S. M.
Taggart, Christopher T.
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Vessel strikes are the primary source of known mortality for the endangered North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis). Multi-institutional efforts to reduce mortality associated with vessel strikes include vessel-routing amendments such as the International Maritime Organization voluntary "area to be avoided" (ATBA) in the Roseway Basin right whale feeding habitat on the southwestern Scotian Shelf. Though relative probabilities of lethal vessel strikes have been estimated and published, absolute probabilities remain unknown. We used a modeling approach to determine the regional effect of the ATBA, by estimating reductions in the expected number of lethal vessel strikes. This analysis differs from others in that it explicitly includes a spatiotemporal analysis of real-time transits of vessels through a population of simulated, swimming right whales. Combining automatic identification system (AIS) vessel navigation data and an observationally based whale movement model allowed us to determine the spatial and temporal intersection of vessels and whales, from which various probability estimates of lethal vessel strikes are derived. We estimate one lethal vessel strike every 0.775-2.07 years prior to ATBA implementation, consistent with and more constrained than previous estimates of every 2-16 years. Following implementation, a lethal vessel strike is expected every 41 years. When whale abundance is held constant across years, we estimate that voluntary vessel compliance with the ATBA results in an 82% reduction in the per capita rate of lethal strikes; very similar to a previously published estimate of 82% reduction in the relative risk of a lethal vessel strike. The models we developed can inform decision-making and policy design, based on their ability to provide absolute, population-corrected, time-varying estimates of lethal vessel strikes, and they are easily transported to other regions and situations.
van der Hoop, Julie M., Angelia S. M. Vanderlaan, and Christopher T. Taggart. 2012. "Absolute probability estimates of lethal vessel strikes to North Atlantic right whales in Roseway Basin, Scotian Shelf." Ecological Applications 22(7): 2021-2033.