Marine Spatial Ecology & Endangered Species

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When you see a whale, a seal, a seabird, or a shark does that indicate you are looking at a healthy ecosystem, or are these predators just passing through? Marine megafauna such as marine mammals, seabirds, sharks and turtles may dramatically influence the kinds and numbers of plants and animals that live in the marine ecosystems where they spend time. Climate change is influencing where marine megafauna are found, including endangered species. What are the consequences of these relocations? How can we best protect these species? Especially if they start spending more time in areas with active shipping lanes and commercial fishing.

Dr. Ellen Hines and her students are providing scientific evidence to support effective conservation and management in the ocean. They collaborate with Point Blue Conservation Science and others in SF Bay, the Gulf of the Farallones and around the world to address threats like fishing gear entanglement and ship strikes to marine megafauna.

On average humpback whales feed in the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary from the end of June to the end of October. When sea surface temperatures are higher than average they arrive as early as April. In the past five years they have seen whale entanglements increase seven-fold together with consistently early arrival to the Sanctuary. Ongoing monitoring of these trends will assist Sanctuary managers and policy makers as they work to reduce fatal humpback entanglements in fishing gear.

Prior work included an analysis of how narrowing shipping lanes into San Francisco Bay reduced the footprint of vessel traffic within the National Marine Sanctuaries boundaries and reduced overlap with endangered Humpback whale habitat. Combining this information with other factors (e.g., vessel speed and number of vessels in the shipping channels) leads to a more complete understanding of the risks of ship strikes, and informs ways to reduce them.

Read a scientific article by Dr. Hines and collaborators about whales and shipping regulations.

Learn more about Dr. Hines and her research.