Phenological changes in North Atlantic right whale habitat use in Massachusetts Bay

Russell A. Charif, Yu Shiu, Charles A. Muirhead, Christopher W. Clark, Susan E. Parks, Aaron N. Rice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is one of the world's most highly endangered baleen whales, with approximately 400–450 individuals remaining. Massachusetts Bay (MB) and Cape Cod Bay (CCB) together comprise one of seven areas in the Gulf of Maine where right whales seasonally congregate. Here, we report on acoustically detected presence of right whales in MB over a nearly 6 year period, July 2007–April 2013, a time of both rapid ocean warming throughout the Gulf of Maine and apparent changes in right whale migratory dynamics. We applied an automated detection algorithm to assess hourly presence of right whale “up-calls” in recordings from a 19-channel acoustic array covering approximately 4,000 km2 in MB. Over the survey, up-calls were detected in 95% of 8 day periods. In each year, as expected, we observed a “peak season” of elevated up-call detections in late winter and early spring corresponding to the season when right whales congregate to feed in CCB. However, we also saw an increase in right whale occurrence during time periods thought to be part of the “off-season.” With the exception of 2009–2010, when acoustic presence was unusually low, the mean percent of hours in which up-calls were detected increased every year, both during the peak season (from 38% in 2008 to 70% in 2012), and during the summer–fall season (from 2% in 2007 to 13% in 2012). Over the entire study, the peak season start date varied between 17 January and 26 February. Changes in right whale phenology in MB likely reflect broadscale changes in habitat use in other areas within the species range. This study demonstrates the value of continuous long-term survey datasets to detect and quantify shifts in cetacean habitat use as environmental conditions change and the long-term continued survival of right whales remains uncertain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)734-745
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • conservation
  • endangered species
  • long-term change
  • management
  • migration
  • phenology
  • right whale

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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