Report on the California Current Ecosystem Survey (CCES): Cetacean and Seabird Data Collection Efforts, June 26 – December 4, 2018

The 2018 California Current Ecosystem Survey (CCES) was a joint project of the Marine Mammal and Turtle Division (MMTD) and the Fisheries Resources Division (FRD) of National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC). The survey was conducted over the course of 7 legs aboard the NOAA ship Reuben Lasker between 26 June and 4 December 2018 (Table 1). CCES was an assessment survey for coastal pelagic fish stocks, marine mammals, seabirds, and oceanography along the west coasts of southern Canada (Vancouver Island), US, and northern Mexico (Baja California), out to a distance of approximately 200 nautical miles offshore (Fig. 1). MMTD and FRD worked jointly aboard the vessel during Legs 1 through 4 (OMAO Project No. RL-18-03) (Tables 1, 2a, and 2b), during which the vessel surveyed off the coasts of Vancouver Island and the US West Coast. Only MMTD operations were conducted during Legs 5 through 7 (OMAO Project No. RL-19-01), during which the vessel surveyed off the US West Coast and Mexico. This document covers the work conducted by MMTD (MMTD Survey No. 1651). Work conducted by FRD is presented separately (Stierhoff et al. 2019).

CCES 2018 was the second survey conducted under PacMAPPS, the Pacific Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species, an initiative by NOAA, the US Navy, and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), to conduct annual cetacean and ecosystem surveys throughout the North Pacific and generate data products used by all three agencies to meet regulatory requirements pertaining to protected species. The first PacMAPPS survey was the Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey (HICEAS) 2017 (Yano et al. 2018; Bradford et al. In press).

The primary MMTD objectives of CCES 2018 were to collect visual sightings data for marine mammals and seabirds, passive acoustic detection data for cetaceans, photo identification, and biopsy tissue samples for cetaceans, and additional ecosystem data (e.g., oceanographic and prey distribution data). These datasets will be used in a suite of analyses that support MMTD’s fulfillment of regulatory requirements and scientific initiatives (e.g., marine mammal stock assessments, integrated ecosystem assessments, mapping cetacean distributions for stakeholders such as the US Navy and BOEM).

CCES 2018 differed markedly – by virtue of its inclusion of a coastal pelagic fish stock survey – from MMTD’s marine mammal and ecosystem assessment surveys conducted between 1991 and 2014 (VonSaunder and Barlow 1999, Philbrick et al. 2003, Appler et al. 2004, Forney 2007, Barlow 2010, Barlow et al. 2010, Becker et al. 2012, Moore and Barlow 2017). Whereas the typical MMTD survey design consists of a regular intersecting grid of transect lines (spaced at 60 nmi) throughout the entire US West Coast EEZ (and out to 300 nmi from shore), the first four legs of the CCES 2018 survey design, driven primarily by needs for the fish stock survey, consisted of closely spaced (10 nmi) parallel transects, running perpendicular from shore, concentrated predominantly over the continental shelf (Fig. 1). This resulted in a relative wealth of data over the continental shelf and slope, but a relative paucity of data from distant offshore regions, compared to data collected during previous California Current cetacean assessment cruises. In the second part of the study (Legs 5 – 7), transect distribution was dictated in large part by routes taken to retrieve drifting passive acoustic devices (called DASBRs) that had been deployed during the first four legs and to deploy (then eventually retrieve) additional DASBRs. These DASBR-tied routes were modified to some extent to obtain as much far-offshore effort as possible, given the lack of data collected from such areas during Legs 1 – 4. The 2018 survey also differed from past marine mammal stock assessment surveys of the area by its inclusion of northern Baja California as part of the study area. Given the uneven sampling throughout the study area, the 2018 study design will require model based (rather than design-based) analytical approaches for updating population size estimates for US West Coast marine mammal stocks (Becker et al. 2019, Forney et al. 2010)).

This study was funded, in part, by the US Department of the Interior, BOEM, Environmental Studies Program, Washington, DC, through Interagency Agreement (IAA) Number M17PG00025 with the NOAA/NMFS, Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC), 8901 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla, CA, and by the US Department of Navy, US Pacific Fleet, 250 Makalapa Drive, Pearl Harbor, HI through IAA No. N00070-18-MP-4C560). This report has been technically reviewed by BOEM, U.S. Navy, and NOAA/NMFS, and it has been approved for publication. The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the US Government, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.


Henry A.E., J.E. Moore, J.P. Barlow, J. Calambokidis, L.T. Ballance, L. Rojas-Bracho, J. Urbán Ramírez. 2020. Report on the California Current Ecosystem Survey (CCES): Cetacean and Seabird Data Collection Efforts, June 26 – December 4, 2018, U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SWFSC-636.

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