National marine sanctuary offices and visitor centers closed to the public; waters remain open

NOAA's national marine sanctuary offices and visitor centers are closed to the public while the waters remain open for responsible use in accordance with CDC guidance and local regulations. More information on the response from NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries can be found on


One of the main suites of information needed for successful management and planning is the spatial and temporal distribution of various activities that take place within a sanctuary and the levels at which they occur. Such information can then be used as a baseline against which to measure future changes and to investigate the degree to which such uses might interact with sanctuary resources or other user groups. The productive waters encompassed by the SBNMS are home to an impressive array of marine life and utilized by an equally impressive array of user groups. Public input has indicated high levels of concern over environmental issues such as the potential for habitat degradation by mobile fishing gear and the entanglement of baleen whales in fixed fishing gear.
In July, 2001, the SBNMS undertook a year-long study to quantify and map the spatial and temporal densities of fixed and mobile gear fishing effort and baleen whale sightings. Data were collected during monthly standardized shipboard surveys that bisected the sanctuary at 5 kilometer (2.5 nautical mile) intervals. Researchers used a subset of those data and ArcView's Spatial Analyst program to conduct an analysis of the density and distribution of fixed gear (trap and gillnet) fisheries, mobile gear (otter trawl and scallop dredge) fisheries and baleen whales (i.e., North Atlantic humpback, right, fin and minke whales). A "user geography" of the sanctuary based on patterns of use was then developed to identify high use areas that might pose risk of environmental damage. ArcView was used to develop an index of Relative Interaction Potential (RIP) to identify where baleen whales might become entangled in fishing gear; a known threat within the Sanctuary.
RIPs were capable of identifying interaction "hot spots" and could provide managers with the opportunity to manage at scales smaller than the entire sanctuary. The analysis identified a number of areas that stood out in terms of entanglement risk and thus are useful for targeting specific areas for guidelines and regulations such as fishery closures and/or gear modifications, or intensive surveillance to facilitate rescue attempts. RIPs are also valuable to facilitating dialogue and information exchange between interest groups seeking solutions to whale-fishery interactions.
Partial funding for this research was provided by an Environmental Leadership Award from the Switzer Foundation to David Wiley.

Survey Design

Survey design.

Baleen Whales

Distribution of baleen whales based on standardized survey 2001-2002.

Fixed Gear

Distribution of fixed fishing gear based on standardized survey 2001-2002.

Relative Entanglement Risk Mao
Relative Interaction Potential as determined by analysis of standardized survey data for 2001-2002 (Figure credit: Michael Thompson).




Wiley, D. N., Moller, J. C., and Zilinskas, K. A. 2003. The distribution and density of commercial fisheries and baleen whales within the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary: July 2001-June 2002. MTS Journal 37(1), 35-53.

Wiley, D. N, Moller, J. C. Zilinskas, K. A, and Thompson, M. A. 2003. Quantifying the relative spatial and temporal risk of baleen whale entanglement within the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. 15th Biennial Meeting, The Society for Marine Mammalogy, Greensboro, North Carolina; December 14th-19th.

Anthropogenic mortality caused by entanglement in commercial fishing gear and ship strike are serious problems for endangered whale species. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endan


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