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Methodologies and preliminary results of the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Aerial Survey Program for right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) in the northeast U.S., 1998-2006
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    This document describes methodologies of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) aerial surveys for North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) in the Northeast U.S. The surveys covered waters north of 41°20'N and east of 72°50'W out to the Hague Line during the spring of 1999, 2000, and 2001, and both the spring and fall of 1998, 2002 and 2003. From 2004 through 2006 the surveys were conducted year-round. The primary objectives of the surveys included: (1) to provide right whale sighting locations to mariners in near real-time in an effort to mitigate whale/ship collisions, (2) to sample offshore areas where dedicated survey effort had been absent since at least 1992, and (3) to photographically identify individual right whales found in these offshore areas. The program was also charged with relocating whale carcasses for species identification and providing aerial support for attempts to disentangle whales from fishing gear. Survey flights were performed at a speed of 185 km/hr (100 knots) at an altitude of 230-306 meters (750-1000 feet) using high-wing aircraft equipped with bubble windows. Environmental parameters (e.g., sea state and cloud cover) affecting the probability of detecting animals along track lines were logged on all survey flights. The average flight duration was five hours. Each flight was categorized as broadscale survey, a systematic survey of the Great South Channel (South Channel Ocean Productivity Experiment [SCOPEX] lines), or a haphazard survey. Over the 9- year period, 336 broadscale, 154 SCOPEX, and 210 haphazard flights were completed, totaling 3614 flight hours.

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