Biologically Important Areas for Selected Cetaceans Within U.S. Waters – West Coast Region
Calambokidis, J, GH Steiger, C Curtice, J Harrison, MC Ferguson, E Becker, M DeAngelis, and SM Van Parijs. 2015. Biologically Important Areas for Selected Cetaceans Within U.S. Waters – West Coast Region. Aquatic Mammals 41(1), 39-53. DOI 10.1578/AM.41.1.2015.39
In this review, we combine existing published and unpublished information along with expert judgment to identify and support the delineation of 28 Biologically Important Areas (BIAs) in U.S. waters along the West Coast for blue whales, gray whales, humpback whales, and harbor porpoises. BIAs for blue whales and humpback whales are based on high concentration areas of feeding animals observed from small boat surveys, ship surveys, and opportunistic sources. These BIAs compare favorably to broader habitat-based density models. BIAs for gray whales are based on their migratory corridor as they transit between primary feeding areas located in northern latitudes and breeding areas off Mexico. Additional gray whale BIAs are defined for the primary feeding areas of a smaller resident population. Two small and resident population BIAs defined for harbor porpoises located off California encompass the populations’ primary areas of use. The size of the individual BIAs ranged from approximately 171 to 138,000 km2. The BIAs for feeding blue, gray, and humpback whales represent relatively small portions of the overall West Coast area (< 5%) but encompass a large majority (77 to 89%) of the thousands of sightings documented and evaluated for each species. We also evaluate and discuss potential feeding BIAs for fin whales, but none are delineated due to limited or conflicting information. The intent of identifying BIAs is to synthesize existing biological information in a transparent format that is easily accessible to scientists, managers, policymakers, and the public for use during the planning and design phase of anthropogenic activities for which U.S. statutes require the characterization and minimization of impacts on marine mammals. To maintain their utility, West Coast region BIAs should be re-evaluated and revised, if necessary, as new information becomes available.