Inter-agency agreements were established between the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), Department of Interior and the Marine Mammal Laboratory, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, NOAA Fisheries, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce. The intent of these agreements was to provide funding to conduct surveys of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) and other marine mammals in the Alaskan Arctic.
The Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM) project was a continuation of the Bowhead Whale Aerial Survey Project (BWASP) and Chukchi Offshore Monitoring in Drilling Area (COMIDA) marine mammal aerial survey project. BWASP was conducted from 1979 to 2010 and targeted the autumn migration of bowhead whales through the western Beaufort Sea, although line transect data on all marine mammals sighted were collected. COMIDA surveys were conducted in the Chukchi Sea Planning Area in the northeastern Chukchi Sea from 1979 to 1991 and 2008 to 2010 to monitor marine mammal distribution, relative density, and behavior during the open-water (ice-free) months, from mid-June or early July to the end of October. BWASP and COMIDA surveys were funded or conducted by the Minerals Management Service (now BOEM) and the Bureau of Land Management, and starting in 2008, the Marine Mammal Laboratory began co-managing the projects with BOEM. In 2011, these projects were merged into ASAMM. Survey protocols remained consistent from1982-2019.
The goal of ASAMM was to document the distribution and relative abundance of bowhead, gray, fin, humpback, killer, minke, and right whales, belugas, and other marine mammals in areas of potential oil and natural gas exploration, development, and production activities in the Alaskan Beaufort and northeastern Chukchi seas. Data from the ASAMM surveys provides important historic context to relate variation in marine mammal distribution or abundance to other variables, such as physical oceanographic conditions, indices of potential prey density, and anthropogenic activities if information on these variables is available.
ASAMM Survey Objectives
- Monitor the spatial and temporal variability in the density, distribution, and behavior (including calving/pupping, feeding, hauling out) of marine mammals (cetaceans, ice seals, walruses, and polar bears) in the Alaskan Arctic, primarily through line-transect aerial survey data, with supplementary information from aerial photo-identification data.
- Describe the annual migration of bowhead whales across the U.S. Arctic, including interannual variability or long-term trends in the spatial distribution and timing of the migration.
- Provide near real-time data or derived products, such as graphical data summaries, on marine mammals and environmental conditions in the U.S. Arctic to BOEM and NMFS.
- Provide information on marine mammal abundance and distribution to Alaska Natives for use in management of subsistence hunts and assessments of anthropogenic impacts on marine mammal resources.
- Provide an objective wide-area context for understanding marine mammal ecology in the U.S. Arctic to help inform management decisions and interpret results of other small-scale studies.