Cetacean and Seabird Distribution, Abundance, and Behavior to Inform Offshore Wind Energy Development

In support of a joint interagency goal to develop 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, the U.S. Department of Energy is funding four projects that will inform offshore wind siting, permitting, and help protect wildlife and fisheries as offshore wind deployment increases. Oregon State University's Marine Mammal Institute has been selected to conduct visual surveys and acoustic monitoring of marine mammals and seabirds to develop predictive density maps of species present in potential wind energy development areas on the West Coast.

DOE Announces $13.5 Million for Sustainable Development of Offshore Wind (October 13, 2021)

OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute to develop wildlife distribution models to inform wind energy development (October 19, 2021)

OSU's Marine Mammal Institute has been awarded a $2 million grant to collect baseline data on the distribution and density of cetaceans and seabirds in Northern California and Oregon waters to inform the development of offshore wind energy. The grant is one of four announced in October by the US Department of Energy. The four-year project, led by Lisa T. Ballance, will include two years of visual surveys and passive acoustic monitoring in the Northern California Current from Cape Mendocino to the mouth of the Columbia River on the border of Oregon and Washington and seaward to the continental slope. 

The resulting data on species occurrence, distribution, and abundance will be integrated to develop spatially and temporally explicit Species Distribution Models (SDMs) which in turn will be used to produce predictive density maps for surveyed species throughout the region. Identification photographs of individual baleen whales, data from satellite-tagged whales, and DNA profiles from whale biopsy samples will provide detailed insight into whale behavior, site fidelity, and population identity, further enhancing and contextualizing the SDMs. The results obtained in this project will provide critical information toward responsible siting and permitting of offshore wind energy development and for assessing its impacts on marine life. 

Co-investigators on the project are Scott Baker, Barbara Lagerquist, Rachael Orben, Daniel Palacios, Kate Stafford, and Leigh Torres of the Marine Mammal Institute; John Calambokidis of the Cascadia Research Collective; and Elizabeth Becker of ManTech International Corp.

Baseline Data Collection on Cetaceans and Seabirds in the Outer Continental Shelf and Slope of Northern California and Oregon to Inform Offshore Wind Energy Development

We propose a multidisciplinary, four-year project that will combine complementary data streams in synergistic ways to provide spatially and temporally explicit distribution and density maps and models for cetaceans and seabirds. Our geographic region of focus is the US West Coast from Cape Mendocino, California, north to the Columbia River mouth (Oregon/Washington border), and seaward to the continental slope at a depth of 3000 m. This region represents a distinct oceanographic province that naturally defines an ecologically meaningful study area in the context of cetaceans and seabirds (Checkley and Barth 2009) and includes the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Humboldt Call Area and Oregon State University’s PacWave South Proposed Lease Area.

Two research components will form the backbone of the project: visual surveys (using distance sampling and strip transect methods for cetaceans and seabirds, respectively) and passive acoustic monitoring (using bottom-mounted hydrophones and echolocation click detectors), to provide complementary data on species occurrence, distribution, and abundance. Three additional data elements will be strategically added to allow for deeper interpretation: (1) identification photographs (collected during this project) and sighting histories of individual baleen whales (based on comparisons with previously photographed whales in curated catalogs) to characterize movements, site fidelity at the individual and population level, and link humpback whales to Distinct Population Segments (DPS); (2) data from tagged whales (using recoverable, medium-duration archival tags equipped with high-resolution accelerometers) to characterize site fidelity, behavior, and (for blue whales) record call rates (to better interpret acoustic detections from passive acoustic monitoring); and (3) DNA profiles of cetaceans (through mitochondrial haplotype sequencing and nuclear microsatellite genotyping) to provide supporting information on migratory fidelity and individual assignment to DPS. Data will be collected during multiple years and all seasons. Our project will be leveraged with ongoing and currently funded research (visual surveys, collection of large whale identification photographs and biopsy samples) and existing historical data and data products. These data streams will be integrated using state-of-the-art statistical methods to generate species distribution models (SDMs) capable of predicting species density and distribution throughout this region. SDMs will resolve seasonal and interannual variation; a temporally integrated climatological product will also be provided. These density maps provide critical information for siting decisions required for offshore wind energy development, for obtaining necessary permits for moving forward, and for assessing their impacts.

Principal Investigator: Lisa T. Ballance (Marine Mammal Institute, Oregon State University)
Major Participants: C. Scott Baker, Barbara A. Lagerquist, Rachael A. Orben, Daniel M. Palacios, Kate M. Stafford, Leigh G. Torres (Marine Mammal Institute, Oregon State University), John Calambokidis (Cascadia Research Collective), Elizabeth A. Becker (ManTech International Corporation)