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Alaska Fisheries Science Center, 2024: AFSC/MML: Marine Mammal Aerial Surveys in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas, and Amundsen Gulf, 1979-2021,

Item Identification

Title: AFSC/MML: Marine Mammal Aerial Surveys in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas, and Amundsen Gulf, 1979-2021
Short Name: AFSC/MML: Marine Mammal Aerial Surveys in the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, 1979-2021
Status: Completed
Publication Date: 2021

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), formerly the Minerals Management Service (MMS), and its precursor, the Bureau of Land Management, funded aerial surveys in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and Bering seas from 1979 to 2019. In 2008, through an Interagency Agreement between MMS and the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA]), the Marine Mammal Laboratory (MML, a division of AFSC), formerly the National Marine Mammal Laboratory assumed co-management responsibilities for these surveys. Throughout the history of the surveys, they were referred to as the Bowhead Whale Aerial Survey Project (BWASP) and the Chukchi Offshore Monitoring in Drilling Area (COMIDA) marine mammal aerial surveys, both of which are described in more detail below. In 2011, a new Interagency Agreement between BOEM and NMML was established to authorize NMML to continue the BWASP and COMIDA studies under the auspices of a single study, Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM). In 2020 and 2021, aerial line-transect surveys for bowhead whales and other marine mammals were funded and co-managed by the North Slope Borough (NSB) through contract 2021-069 with the Cooperative Institute for Climate, Ocean, and Ecosystem Studies (CICOES), a part of the University of Washington, with collaboration from AFSC, NOAA Fisheries. Consistent survey protocol has been in effect on surveys conducted since 1982. Data collected from 1979 to 1981 were not vetted as carefully as data from 1982 to 2021, and should generally not be used for most analyses. WESTERN BEAUFORT SEA Aerial surveys in the western Beaufort Sea (south of 72 degrees N, 140-157 degrees W) have been conducted each year since 1979. MMS personnel and contractors conducted the surveys from 1979 to 2007. From 2008 to 2019, the surveys were conducted by MML. In 2020 and 2021, surveys were conducted by NSB. The primary goal of the project, also known as BWASP through 2010, ASAMM from 2011 to 2019, and NSB Autumn Aerial Surveys in 2020 and 2021, was to document bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) during their fall migration through the western Beaufort Sea, although data were also collected for all other marine mammals that were sighted during the surveys. The surveys were typically conducted during the months of September and October, when offshore drilling and geophysical exploration were feasible and when the fall subsistence hunt for bowhead whales takes place near Kaktovik, Cross Island (village of Nuiqsut), and Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow), Alaska. Additional surveys were conducted in the western Beaufort Sea during spring and summer 1979-1986, during summer 2011-2019, and from approximately 15 September to 15 October in 2020 and 2021. The emphasis of surveys in the Beaufort Sea was to conduct broad-scale surveys to assess shifts in the migration pathway of bowhead whales, and to coordinate effort and manage data necessary to support seasonal offshore drilling and seismic exploration regulations. The selection of survey blocks to be flown on a given day was nonrandom, based primarily on criteria such as observed and predicted weather conditions over the study area and offshore oil industry activities. From 2016 to 2019, to incorporate the area near Liberty prospect, all transects in survey block 1 were extended inshore of the barrier islands to the shoreline. From 19 July through 20 August 2016, transects extended north beyond the usual BWASP study area into study blocks 8, 9, and 10, and north of blocks 11 and 12 (beyond 72 degrees N) to survey Eastern Chukchi Sea (ECS) beluga habitat. In 2017, a coastal transect 1 km offshore between Point Barrow and Demarcation Bay in the Beaufort Sea was added. Otherwise, the project attempted to distribute effort evenly east-to-west across the entire study area. Aerial coverage favored inshore survey blocks because bowhead whales were rarely sighted north of blocks 2, 6, and 7 during surveys conducted from 1979 to 1986. EASTERN CHUKCHI SEA Aerial surveys in the eastern Chukchi Sea (68-73 degrees N, 157-169 degrees W) were conducted by MMS contractors from 1982 to 1991. From 2008 to 2019, the surveys were conducted by MML. In 2020 and 2021, the surveys were conducted by NSB in collaboration with CICOES and MML and used a similar methodology to the surveys conducted in previous years. In 2009, a coastal transect 1 km offshore extending from Point Barrow to Point Hope was added. Starting in 2014, surveys expanded south to 67 degrees N. In July and August 2018, surveys were expanded north to 73 degrees N, 157-160 degrees W to assess potential bowhead whale use of this area in July and August. The goal of the surveys, also known as COMIDA through 2010, ASAMM from 2011 to 2019, and NSB Autumn Aerial Surveys in 2020 and 2021, was to investigate the distribution and relative abundance of marine mammals in the Chukchi Sea Planning Area (CSPA) during the open water (i.e., ice-free) months of June to October, when various species are undertaking seasonal migrations through the area. However, from 1979 to 1984, surveys were also conducted during spring. In 2020 and 2021, NSB Autumn Aerial Surveys in the Chukchi Sea from approximately 15 September to 15 October, were prioritized only when weather conditions were not conducive to surveying the western Beaufort Sea. NORTHERN BERING AND SOUTHERN CHUKCHI SEAS Aerial surveys in the northern Bering and southern Chukchi seas (63-68 degrees N, east of the International Date Line) were conducted by MMS contractors from 1979 to 1985. The goal of these surveys was to investigate the distribution, abundance, migration timing, habitat relationships and behavior of endangered whales during the spring migration. Surveys were conducted from April to July. EASTERN BEAUFORT SEA AND AMUNDSEN GULF Aerial surveys in the eastern Beaufort Sea and Amundsen Gulf (67-73 degrees N, 118-140 degrees W), were conducted by MML from 5 to 27 August 2019, in collaboration with BOEM, NSB, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Inuvialuit Game Council, and Fisheries Joint Management Committee. The goal of these surveys, known as the ASAMM Bowhead Abundance (ABA) project, was to collect aerial survey data specific to estimating the abundance of the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort Seas bowhead whale population. The primary ABA study area in its entirety includes the Beaufort Sea shelf and Amundsen Gulf (118-158 degrees W). This database contains aerial survey data from the surveys described above.


The goals of the Bowhead Whale Aerial Survey Project (BWASP) have changed minimally since the surveys commenced in 1979. Objectives of the surveys since the late 1980s were to 1) Define the annual fall migration of bowhead whales, significant inter-year differences, and long-term trends in the distance from shore and water depth at which whales migrate; 2) Monitor temporal and spatial trends in the distribution, relative abundance, habitat, and behaviors (especially feeding) of endangered whales in Arctic waters; 3) Provide real-time data to Minerals Management Service (MMS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) on the general progress of the fall migration of bowhead whales across the western Beaufort Sea for use in protection of this endangered species; 4) Provide an objective wide area context for management interpretation of the overall fall migration of bowhead whales and site-specific study results; 5) Record and map beluga whale distribution and incidental sightings of other marine mammals; 6) Determine seasonal distribution of endangered whales in other planning areas of interest to MMS. The goals of the Chukchi Offshore Monitoring in Drilling Area (COMIDA) marine mammal aerial survey project commencing in 2008 were to 1) Provide data compatible with the MMS marine mammal database directly to MMS for inclusion in that database and for use in estimation of the distribution of cetaceans and pinnipeds in the Chukchi Sea Planning Area (CSPA) from three surveys during June-November; 2) Document geographical areas of importance for specific behaviors including calving/pupping, feeding, hauling out, and migrating; 3) Provide timely information on marine mammal observations and environmental conditions, including ice conditions, following each survey flight to organizations as directed by MMS (e.g., National Ice Center, Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, MMS) for real-time management of activities in the region. The goals of the surveys conducted in the northern Bering and southern Chukchi seas from 1979 to 1985 were to 1) Determine seasonal distribution, migration routes, relative abundance, and habitat characteristics of endangered whales in or near existing proposed federal lease sales in the northern Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas; 2) Derive estimates and indicators of relative and/or absolute abundance of endangered whales in these areas; 3) Describe behavioral characteristics of endangered whales observed in these areas; 4) Deploy sonobuoys to detect sounds produced by whales, to be used as additional indices of whale presence in these areas; 5) Obtain distributional information on non-endangered marine mammal sightings incidental to other investigations; 6) Consult and coordinate field activities with other federal agencies, state or local government organizations, or other endangered species researchers to maximize productivity of this study and minimize conflict with other resource users. The goals of the Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM) project were to continue the BWASP and COMIDA studies with the following objectives; 1) Monitor the spatial and temporal variability in the density, distribution, and behavior (including calving/pupping, feeding, hauling out) of marine mammals (cetaceans, ice seals, walruses, and polar bears) in the Alaskan Arctic. This objective was achieved primarily through line-transect aerial survey data, with supplementary information from aerial photo-identification data; 2) Describe the annual migration of bowhead whales across the U.S. Arctic, including inter-annual variability or long-term trends in the spatial distribution and timing of the migration; 3) Provide near real-time data or derived products, such as graphical data summaries, on marine mammals and environmental conditions in the U.S. Arctic to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and NMFS; 4) Provide information on marine mammal abundance and distribution to Alaska Natives for use in management of subsistence hunts and assessments of anthropogenic impacts on marine mammal resources; and 5) Provide an objective wide-area context for understanding marine mammal ecology in the U.S. Arctic to help inform management decisions and interpret results of other small-scale studies. The goal of the August 2019 ASAMM Bowhead Abundance (ABA) study was to apply ASAMM line-transect methodology to collect the data needed to estimate Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort Seas bowhead whale abundance. The goals of the 2020 and 2021 North Slope Borough (NSB) Autumn Aerial Surveys project were to 1) Conduct line-transect aerial surveys in the western Beaufort Sea to collect data on bowhead whale density, distribution, activities, and calves using survey methods consistent with the existing 41-year ASAMM time series 2) Analyze the autumn aerial survey data with the ASAMM historical database to investigate spatial and temporal patterns, variability, and trends in bowhead whale density and habitat use in the western Alaskan Beaufort Sea.


Loaded by FGDC Metadata Uploader, batch 8388, 03-23-2016 13:23

The following FGDC sections are not currently supported in InPort, but were preserved and will be included in the FGDC export:

- Taxonomy (FGDC:taxonomy)

- Spatial Reference Information (FGDC:spref),

Other Citation Details:

BOEM, Alaska Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Region, and NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service, Alaska Fisheries Science Center (2011). Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM) collected by the Marine Mammal Laboratory, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and other agencies in the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas (NODC Accession 0039614). National Oceanographic Data Center, NOAA. Dataset. doi:10.7289/V51V5BZM


Theme Keywords

Thesaurus Keyword
ISO 19115 Topic Category
ISO 19115 Topic Category
None abundance
None aerial
None distribution
None habitat
None line-transect survey

Temporal Keywords

Thesaurus Keyword
None fall
None spring
None summer

Spatial Keywords

Thesaurus Keyword
None Alaska
None Amundsen Gulf
None Arctic
None Beaufort Sea
None Bering Sea
None Canada
None Chukchi Sea
None Northwest Territories

Physical Location

Organization: National Marine Mammal Laboratory
City: Seattle
State/Province: WA
Country: United States

Data Set Information

Data Set Scope Code: Data Set
Maintenance Frequency: Annually
Data Presentation Form: other
Distribution Liability:

The user is responsible for the results of any application of this data for other than its intended purpose. NOAA denies liability if the data are misused.

Support Roles

Data Steward

CC ID: 227408
Date Effective From: 1979
Date Effective To:
Contact (Person): Ferguson, Megan
Email Address:


CC ID: 309205
Date Effective From: 2016-03-23
Date Effective To:
Contact (Organization): National Centers for Environmental Information - Silver Spring, Maryland (NCEI-MD)
Address: NOAA/NESDIS E/OC SSMC3, 4th Floor, 1351 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910-3282
Phone: (301) 713-3277

Metadata Contact

CC ID: 309203
Date Effective From: 2016-03-23
Date Effective To:
Contact (Person): MC, Metadata Coordinators
Email Address:


CC ID: 309206
Date Effective From: 2016-03-23
Date Effective To:
Contact (Organization): Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC)
Address: 7600 Sand Point Way N.E., Building 4
Seattle, WA 98115
Email Address:
Phone: (206) 526-4000
Fax: (206) 526-4004
Business Hours: 0700-1700 Pacific Time

Point of Contact

CC ID: 309204
Date Effective From: 2016-03-23
Date Effective To:
Contact (Person): Angliss, Robyn
Address: 7600 Sand Point Way, NE
Seattle, WA 98115-6349
Email Address:
Phone: 206-526-4032
Fax: 206-526-6615


Currentness Reference: Ground Condition

Extent Group 1

Extent Group 1 / Geographic Area 1

CC ID: 309202
W° Bound: -174.0134
E° Bound: -115.0671
N° Bound: 76.146
S° Bound: 57.725

Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas

Extent Group 1 / Time Frame 1

CC ID: 309201
Time Frame Type: Continuing
Start: 1979-04

Access Information

Security Class: Unclassified
Data Access Procedure:

Data is available at NCEI:

Data Access Constraints:

There are no legal restrictions on access to the data. They reside in public domain and can be freely distributed.

Data Use Constraints:

Users must read and fully comprehend the metadata prior to use. Applications or inferences derived from the data should be carefully considered for accuracy. These data undergo periodic updates as new data become available or existing data are edited for accuracy and consistency. To ensure that users have the most current version and to prevent duplication of, and encourage more efficient coordination with, any ongoing analyses, please contact Dr Megan Ferguson ( if there is an intention to use these data in a scientific report, whether published or not. Credit should always be given for any use of these data; please ask Dr Ferguson for the appropriate credits relative to the intended use. These data should be acquired from either National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) or MML and not through other sources that might not have the most recent version.

Distribution Information

Distribution 1

CC ID: 309208
Download URL:
Distributor: National Centers for Environmental Information - Silver Spring, Maryland (NCEI-MD) (2016-03-23 - Present)

Arctic aerial survey data.

File Type (Deprecated): txt
Distribution Format: Text (Unstructured)



CC ID: 309207
Name: Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM)
URL Type:
Online Resource

Technical Environment


Microsoft Access Database

Data Quality


On 7/7/2006 all values in the field Swimdir_True were corrected from previous inaccurate values. Values in Swimdir_True are the swim direction of whales corrected for magnetic declination. Swim directions were taken as a clock position in relation to magnetic compass direction, and need to be corrected for magnetic declination. Previous versions used a correct degree of declination, but incorrect direction of declination. All versions prior to the 2006 version of the BWASP database have inaccurate true swim directions.

Completeness Report:

Not applicable.

Conceptual Consistency:

On 4/6/2006, in the 1979 to 2005 BWASP Aerial Survey Database duplicate records were removed. Previous versions of the BWASP Aerial Survey Database may include these duplicate records. The duplicate records were in 1979 flight number eight, which should have only 20 records, and in 1982 flight number 3, which should have only 39 records. Flight numbers missing from these data include: in 1979 there is no flight 31 and flights 30, 32, and 33 are not in sequential order; 1980 flights 8, 47, and 84 are missing from the dataset; 1981 flights 16, 77, 95, and 96 were transit flights and are not included and flights 41-49 are not included because they were not associated with this project; 1982 flight 67 is missing and two aircraft were conducting survey from 6 to 15 October, flights were numbered sequentially by date not by aircraft; and in 1990, the second aircraft’s flight numbers begin at 206. Aerial_Master_2018_2020_v2.mdb was the last version prior to reconciling existing 2018 and 2019 sightings based on Belly Port Camera (BPC) imagery used to estimate perception bias for ASAMM observers; this version should be used to estimate perception bias. Aerial_Master_2018_2020_v3.mdb is the first version where changes appear; all revisions associated with BPC imagery are documented in the notes field by stating what was changed, followed by --€œwas revised based on BPC imagery review.€

Quality Control Procedures Employed:

In 2010, a quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) review of the database was undertaken to improve use of the database for analyses, standardize attribute values, minimize inconsistencies, and/or correct errors. For more information about this review see AerialMaster_HistoricalDataReview.doc which can be found by downloading the historical BWASP and COMIDA database (1979 to 2013) found here:

Data Management

Have Resources for Management of these Data Been Identified?: No
Approximate Percentage of Budget for these Data Devoted to Data Management: 0
Do these Data Comply with the Data Access Directive?: Yes
Is Access to the Data Limited Based on an Approved Waiver?: No
Approximate Delay Between Data Collection and Dissemination: Unnknown
Actual or Planned Long-Term Data Archive Location: NCEI-MD
Approximate Delay Between Data Collection and Archiving: Unknown
How Will the Data Be Protected from Accidental or Malicious Modification or Deletion Prior to Receipt by the Archive?:

IT Security and Contingency Plan for the system establishes procedures and applies to the functions, operations, and resources necessary to recover and restore data as hosted in the Western Regional Support Center in Seattle, Washington, following a disruption.


Process Steps

Process Step 1

CC ID: 309210


Process Contact: Ferguson, Megan
Email Address:

Child Items

Rubric scores updated every 15m

Rubric Score Type Title
Entity Output

Catalog Details

Catalog Item ID: 17338
GUID: gov.noaa.nmfs.inport:17338
Metadata Record Created By: SysAdmin InPortAdmin
Metadata Record Created: 2012-12-21 17:04+0000
Metadata Record Last Modified By: SysAdmin InPortAdmin
Metadata Record Last Modified: 2024-01-15 12:08+0000
Metadata Record Published: 2019-11-27
Owner Org: AFSC
Metadata Publication Status: Published Externally
Do Not Publish?: N
Metadata Last Review Date: 2019-11-27
Metadata Review Frequency: 1 Year
Metadata Next Review Date: 2020-11-27