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Comparing Manned Aerial Surveys to Unmanned Aerial Surveys for Cetacean Monitoring in the Arctic: Field Report

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Technical Report

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Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division Dahlgren United States

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Manned aerial surveys from fixed-wing aircraft have been used successfully for decades to achieve diverse scientific and wildlife management goals. Aerial line-transect surveys for marine mammals collect data that can be used to estimate density or abundance and investigate habitat use and behavior Buckland et al. 2001, Garner et al. 1999. NOAA Fisheries, the Department of the Interior, the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management, and other agencies have been involved in many marine mammal research flights in the Arctic designed to provide information on animal density and distribution important to both the agencies and to North Slope Residents. These long-term datasets provide agencies with information they need on the status of the marine mammal populations. Although decades of valuable research, monitoring, and mitigation activities have been conducted successfully from manned aircraft, and will continue to be used in the foreseeable future, these survey platforms do have limitations. First, there are risks inherent in manned aerial operations that must be mitigated to reach an acceptable level of safety for the survey team. Second, observer discomfort or fatigue caused by extended periods of time aboard the aircraft can affect data collection. Third, manned aircraft, like any survey platform, have the potential to disturb wildlife. Lastly, manned aircraft burn a considerable amount of fuel, resulting in high costs and consumption of non-renewable resources.

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