- Research and Monitoring Efforts
- BOEM/NOAA Offshore Wind Strategy
- Additional Partnerships
- Additional Resources
The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is one of the most endangered large whale species in the world. The population is currently in decline, with approximately 336 individuals left. They are found along the U.S. east coast, from New England to Florida, and their habitat overlaps with the heavily used coastal waters of the North Atlantic. These whales are also an integral part of Tribal communities’ history, culture and ancestry. Currently, human activities – such as entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes – are the greatest threats to the species’ recovery. Ocean noise and decreased prey abundance due to climate-driven changes in habitat are also contributing to the species decline. The loss of even one right whale a year may reduce the species’ ability to recover and reach a sustainable population.
Climate change is a significant global threat causing planet-wide physical, chemical and biological changes that substantially affect the world’s oceans, lands and atmosphere. Offshore wind is an abundant, efficient and clean alternative domestic energy resource with the potential to generate jobs and combat the effects of climate change. Offshore energy development and its associated activities, however, can also pose risks to North Atlantic right whales through increased risk of vessel strikes, noise, entanglement, and habitat changes that may reduce prey availability.
BOEM is the federal agency responsible for managing the development of offshore energy and mineral resources in an economically and environmentally responsible way. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. § 1531) requires BOEM to ensure that its actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of its critical habitat.
North Atlantic Right Whale and Offshore Wind Research and Monitoring Efforts
For the past 15 years, BOEM, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the offshore wind industry and other partners and stakeholders have funded and supported numerous research efforts to better assess potential impacts of offshore wind development on protected species like the North Atlantic right whale. These studies help provide the best available science to inform BOEM’s policy decisions.
Research activities/topics include:
- working groups
- passive acoustic monitoring
- vessel and aerial monitoring
- photo identification
- infrared camera and related technology studies
- satellite, and unmanned aerial vehicle remote sensing
- tagging and telemetry
- oceanographic, ecological and prey studies
- noise and quieting
- stress and health modeling
- habitat-based density modeling and analysis techniques and
- risk assessments (including vessel strike, entanglement and population level risk assessment).
As the offshore wind industry continues to grow and as projects begin construction, BOEM will continue to work with NOAA Fisheries and other partners to evaluate existing strategies as well as further collect and apply newly available information to inform future decisions.
BOEM and NOAA Fisheries: North Atlantic Right Whale and Offshore Wind Strategy
In response to Executive Order 14008 (Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad), the Departments of the Interior, Energy and Commerce established a national goal to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, while protecting biodiversity and promoting ocean co-use. BOEM and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) therefore share a vision to protect and promote the recovery of North Atlantic right whales while responsibly developing offshore wind energy. The agencies are working to understand the effects of offshore wind development on North Atlantic right whales and the ecosystems on which they depend, and to develop strategies to avoid, minimize, and monitor offshore wind development impacts to the species.
As part of these efforts, BOEM and NOAA Fisheries recently developed a joint Draft North Atlantic Right Whale and Offshore Wind Strategy to focus and integrate past, present and future efforts related to NARW and OSW development. BOEM and NOAA Fisheries are making the draft strategy available for public comment. Comments on the guidance can be submitted via regulations.gov from October 21 to December 4, 2022 under Docket Number BOEM-2022-0066. After receiving and reviewing comments, the agencies will finalize the strategy, but it will be considered a “living document” that will be regularly evaluated and updated as new information becomes available.
BOEM and NOAA Fisheries are also working with partners to develop a regional passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) network to identify the larger scale movements and distribution of North Atlantic right whales, and other marine mammals. In addition, real-time PAM systems have been proposed to be deployed to detect whales in the vicinity of construction operations and prompt site-specific mitigation measures designed to reduce the impacts of offshore wind energy projects on North Atlantic right whales and other marine species. BOEM is also working with NOAA Fisheries on a Federal Survey Mitigation Implementation Strategy that will describe steps to limit the impact of offshore wind energy development on NOAA Fisheries survey activities, including those focused on monitoring North Atlantic right whales.
These efforts align with the 2022 interagency memorandum between BOEM and NOAA that will leverage the responsibilities, expertise and relationships of both agencies in support of the Biden-Harris administration’s offshore wind energy goals while protecting biodiversity and promoting cooperative ocean use.
BOEM Partnerships with States and Others
BOEM is also collaborating on several other research initiatives related to the North Atlantic right whale and offshore wind energy development. For more than seven years, BOEM has partnered with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) on North Atlantic right whale aerial surveys around and within the designated Wind Energy Areas offshore Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
In response to stakeholder requests, BOEM, MassCEC, and other state, federal and private funders recently agreed to help fund one additional year of targeted aerial surveys to augment the existing survey series. Throughout 2022, when researchers observe groupings of North Atlantic right whales during aerial surveys, they will also conduct separate focused and directed surveys on the identified aggregations to improve BOEM’s understanding of the whales’ behavior.
The funding extension will allow time for regional partnerships to address this long-term data need and reinforces BOEM’s commitment to collaborate with the Regional Wildlife Science Collaborative on the development of the best path forward for North Atlantic right whale research. This current survey effort includes funding from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Maine Community Foundation. Discussions are ongoing for further funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. State funding for the surveys has been facilitated by the Regional Wildlife Science Collaborative.
- Assessing Population Effects of Offshore Wind Development on North Atlantic Right Whales (ongoing)
- Atlantic Deepwater Ecosystem Observatory Network (ADEON)
- Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (AMAPPS) - Photogrammetric Aerial Surveys to Improve Detection and Classification of Seabirds, Cetaceans, and Sea Turtles
- Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species: 2010-2014; Appendix I; Appendix II-V;
- Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species: FY15 - FY19; Appendix I; Appendix II; Appendix III
- Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species III (ongoing)
- Automated detection and classification of wildlife targets in digital aerial imagery (ongoing)
- Baseline Bioacoustic Characterization for Offshore Renewable Energy Development in the North Carolina and Georgia Wind Planning Areas
- Determining Habitat Use by Marine Mammals and Ambient Noise Levels Using Passive Acoustic Monitoring Offshore of Maryland
- Developing an Auditory Weighting Function for Low-Frequency Whales (ongoing)
- Development of Computer Simulations to Assess Entanglement Risk to Whales and Leatherback Sea Turtles in Offshore Floating Wind Turbine Moorings, Cables, and Associated Derelict Fishing Gear Offshore California – includes NARW model. Infographic. (ongoing)
- Ecological Baseline Study of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf Off Maine (ongoing)
- Evaluating the Accuracy and Detection Range of a Moored Whale Detection Buoy near the Massachusetts Wind Energy Area
- EWG Risk Assessment - pile driving
- Investigating Persistent Super Aggregations of Right Whales and Their Prey in Lease Areas OCS-A 0521 and OCS-A 0522 in the North Atlantic (ongoing)
- Megafauna Aerial Surveys in the Wind Energy Areas of Massachusetts and Rhode Island with Emphasis on Large Whales: Summary Report Campaign 5, 2018-2019
- Megafauna Aerial Surveys in the Wind Energy Areas of Massachusetts and Rhode Island with Emphasis on Large Whales: Interim Report Campaign 6A, 2020
- Northeast large pelagic survey collaborative aerial and acoustic surveys for large whales and sea turtles
- Offshore Wind Impacts on Oceanographic Processes: North Carolina to New York (ongoing)
- Propagation Characteristics of High-Frequency Sounds Emitted During High-Resolution Geophysical Surveys: Open Water Testing
- Risk Assessment to Model Encounter Rates between Large Whales and Vessel Traffic from Offshore Wind Energy on the Atlantic OCS
- Spatial & Acoustic Ecology of Pelagic Megavertebrates (ongoing)
- Standardizing Integrated Ecosystem-Based Assessment Nationally (ongoing)
- Understanding Whale Presence in the Virginia Offshore Wind Energy Area
- Wildlife and Offshore Wind (WOW): A Systems Approach to Research and Risk Assessment for Offshore Wind Development from Maine to North Carolina (ongoing)
- Zooplankton Ecology of the Gulf of Maine
- Existing Endangered Species Act Section 7 Consultations for Offshore Wind Projects
- Guidelines for Acoustic Modeling and Sound Field Measurements for Pile-Driving
- NOAA and BOEM Minimum Recommendations for Use of Passive Acoustic Listening Systems in Offshore Wind Energy Development Monitoring and Mitigation Programs
- Best Management Practices Workshop for Atlantic Offshore Wind Facilities and Protected Species
- A Framework for Studying the Effects of Offshore Wind Development on Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles
- Potential Impacts to Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles from Offshore Wind Research Framework Workshop
- Quieting Technologies for Reducing Noise During Seismic Surveying and Pile Driving Workshop Summary Report
- Workshops on Passive Acoustic Monitoring and Marine Mammals (Workshop 1 and Workshop 2)