NOAA: Innovative Monitoring Activities Will Improve Understanding of Stressors on Gulf Whales and Dolphins

The Open Ocean Trustee Implementation Group approved new monitoring and adaptive management activities to help better understand environmental conditions that impact marine mammals injured by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The species include pantropical spotted and other oceanic dolphins, and sperm whales.

The Gulf of Mexico is a complex system in which there are many uncertainties and knowledge gaps. In the northern Gulf, whales and dolphins may be exposed to several stressors at the same time or cumulatively over their lifespan. They include noise, physical injury, toxins, reduced prey availability and many others. Effective restoration of marine mammals requires a better understanding of these stressors and their cumulative effects on health and reproduction.

To help with these complexities, we’ll develop mathematical models of stressors, fine tuning them over time. The models are expected to predict effects of potential restoration activities that could reduce stressors on sperm whales and oceanic dolphins, and estimate the effects our restoration projects are having on their populations.

Using the best available science and expertise, we’ll conduct these activities in two phases with an estimated $3.7 million in funding over five years. The second phase is contingent on results of the first:

  • In Phase 1 (years 1-3), we’ll develop models to numerically estimate the effects of multiple stressors on sperm whale and oceanic dolphin that may simultaneously affect them or accumulate over time.
  • In Phase 2 (years 3-5), following model development, studies will be conducted to improve our understanding of the effects of the stressors and refine the models.

This is the third monitoring and adaptive management activities implementation plan approved by the Open Ocean Trustees. The first two are focused on Gulf sturgeon and were announced in July.