Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Managing marine species effectively requires spatially and temporally explicit knowledge of their density and distribution. Habitat-based density models, a type of species distribution model (SDM) that uses habitat covariates to estimate species density and distribution patterns, are increasingly used for marine management and conservation because they provide a tool for assessing potential impacts (e.g., from fishery bycatch, ship strikes, anthropogenic sound) over a variety of spatial and temporal scales.

Based on past genetic and photo-identification data, humpback whales in the North Pacific show site fidelity to distinct feeding areas to which they return annually including an area that encompasses the waters off Washington and southern British Columbia. This represents one of the smaller North Pacific feeding areas both geographically and numerically. Combined with its transboundary status and busy shipping-lane traffic through this area from both US and Canada ports, this is an important but complicated area for management.

Individual ID mark-recapture studies are critical to our understanding of marine mammals, yet gathering, processing and identifying individuals in images remains exceptionally labor and cost intensive.