1999 Workshop

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Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing For Marine Mammal Science

13th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals: Pre-conference Workshop
November 28, 1999
Maui, Hawaii, USA

Ellen Hines (University of Victoria, Canada)
Dave Duffus (University of Victoria, Canada)
Olaf Niemann (University of Victoria, Canada)
Marilyn Dahlheim (NOAA National Marine Mammal Laboratory, USA)
Jeremy Davies (NOAA National Marine Mammal Laboratory, USA)
Mark Zacharias (British Columbia Provincial Ministry of Environment, Canada)
Phillip Clapham (NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, USA)

Summary of workshop
- published by Ellen Hines in the Marine Mammal Society Newsletter, Vol 8, No. 2, July 2000

On November 28, 1999, prior to the Maui conference of the Society for Marine Mammalogy, a workshop was held to discuss the use of geomatic technologies (Geographic Information Systems [GIS], remote sensing, and global positioning systems [GPS]) by marine mammal scientists.  The organizers of the workshop were Ellen Hines and Dave Duffus, from the Whale Research Lab, at the University of Victoria, Canada, Olaf Niemann, from the Department of Geography at the University of Victoria, Marilyn Dahlheim and Jeremy Davies from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, NOAA, Seattle, WA, Mark Zacharias, British Columbia Provincial Ministry of Environment, and Phillip Clapham, National Marine Fisheries Service, Woods Hole, MA.

Until recently, little consideration was, or could be given to the spatial domain in which the animals that we study exist. Between the early mid-1960’s and today, the inauguration of statistical methods and the advances made in geomatic technologies, especially from satellite and aerial imagery, have increased our understanding by allowing us to find patterns and make predictions of movement and distribution of research subjects over broad areas.  The ability to interpolate and collaborate spatially explicit data at various scales has important potential for us as marine mammal scientists.  The accuracy we are gaining in our ability to spatially visualize and analyze the 4-dimensional habitat these animals live in can critically enhance our scientific knowledge.

In planning this workshop, we endeavored to address several major issues.  How do we as scientists incorporate our data sources into these technologies?  How do we design surveys that efficiently integrate the technology with field-based data?  What questions can we really answer with these techniques?  How can we analyze our results in a spatial context?  How do we communicate those results for scientific and social significance?  We planned to discuss data quality, metadata, and scale, data sources, and finally, what we can visualize for these techniques in the future.

One hundred fifteen people attended the all-day workshop, spending the first part of the morning looking at a display of posters from all over the world.  The posters illustrated various combinations of GIS, remote sensing, and GPS to model and document habitat suitability and use, the influence of ocean parameters on spatial distribution, spatial analysis of behavior, and the distribution of animals; multi-species, single-species, and individuals.  These posters also demonstrated the documentation of historic distributions and methods to optimize survey design.  All orders of marine mammals were represented.

We then saw four presentations that spoke to the major issues outlined earlier.  The first was given jointly by Paddy Pomeroy of the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and Sean Twiss, from the University of Durham in Britain.  They discusses a long-term collaborative project with Chris Thomas, also of the University of Durham.  This research uses GIS to investigate the behavioral ecology of grey seals within breeding colonies, in order to learn about the distribution of individual animals in response to their physical and biological surroundings.  Jay Ver Hoef, of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, then talked about the use of spatial statistics in GIS, and explained about modeling and managing spatial data.  After lunch, I have a presentation about a recent project where I created a GIS-based management information system for the gray whale on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.  The system is based on combining information from whale research, biophysical data about the surrounding area, and cultural surveys about local peoples’ historical and current interactions with the whales.  Toshihide Hamazaki from New Mexico State University then reported on the work that he and Gordon Waring (National Marine Fisheries Service, Woods Hole, Massachusetts) have been doing to use GIS to investigate summer habitat usage patterns in the western North Atlantic Ocean by 13 common cetacean species.

A panel of scientists, who included the organizers with the additions of Sue Moore from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle, Sean Twiss, Leslie Ward-Geiger from the Florida Marine Research Institute, Jeff Polovina from the National Marine Fisheries Service in Honolulu, and Jay Ver Hoef, then critiqued the posters and discussed the presentations.  We also had time for questions and discussions from the floor.

The general comments of the panel and participants pointed to the fact that the large attendance at this workshop and the variety of work seen in the posters emphasized the growing interest in GIS and remote sensing technology as a research tool.  We, as marine mammal scientists, have come a long way in our use of geomatics and spatial statistics, but still have a long way to go.  One of the most repeated suggestions was to collaborate on data sources, analysis techniques, and to communicate with scientists in physical oceanography, geostatistics, and geomatics.  The consensus was that this discussion needed to continue.  Future workshops should include special interest groups and even training sessions as well as general discussion.  In 2001 for the Vancouver conference, I will integrate these suggestions, and create another workshop.


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