Research Publication

Projecting regions of North Atlantic right whale, Eubalaena glacialis, habitat suitability in the Gulf of Maine for the year 2050

By Camille H. Ross, Daniel E. Pendleton, Benjamin Tupper, David Brickman, Monica A. Zani, Charles A. Mayo, Nicholas R. Record

Originally published in Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene in April 2021



North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) are critically endangered, and recent changes in distribution patterns have been a major management challenge. Understanding the role that environmental conditions play in habitat suitability helps to determine the regions in need of monitoring or protection for conservation of the species, particularly as climate change shifts suitable habitat. This study used three species distribution modeling algorithms, together with historical whale abundance data (1993–2009) and environmental covariate data, to build monthly ensemble models of past E. glacialis habitat suitability in the Gulf of Maine. The model was projected onto the year 2050 for a range of climate scenarios. Specifically, the distribution of the species was modeled using generalized additive models, boosted regression trees, and artificial neural networks, with environmental covariates that included sea surface temperature, bottom water temperature, bathymetry, a modeled Calanus finmarchicus habitat index, and chlorophyll. Year-2050 projections used downscaled climate anomaly fields from Representative Concentration Pathway 4.5 and 8.5. The relative contribution of each covariate changed seasonally, with an increase in the importance of bottom temperature and C. finmarchicus in the summer, when model performance was highest. A negative correlation was observed between model performance and sea surface temperature contribution. The 2050 projections indicated decreased habitat suitability across the Gulf of Maine in the period from July through October, with the exception of narrow bands along the Scotian Shelf. The results suggest that regions outside of the current areas of conservation focus may become increasingly important habitats for E. glacialis under future climate scenarios.

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Affiliated Authors
  • Dan Pendleton

    Dan Pendleton, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Spatial Ecology, Mapping, and Assessment, Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, is a quantitative ecologist who is motivated by the desire conduct science that will inform resource management decisions and advance the conservation status of marine mammals.

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