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Short Citation:
NMFS Office of Science and Technology, 2022: Predictive Models of Cetacean Densities in the California Current Ecosystem, 2020,

Item Identification

Title: Predictive Models of Cetacean Densities in the California Current Ecosystem, 2020
Status: Completed
Publication Date: 2020-05-11

Species distribution models (SDMs) are important management tools for highly mobile marine species because they provide spatially and temporally explicit information on animal distribution. Two prevalent modeling frameworks used to develop SDMs for marine species are Generalized Additive Models (GAMs) and Boosted Regression Trees (BRTs), but comparative studies have rarely been conducted; most rely on presence-only data; and few have explored how features such as species distribution characteristics affect model performance. Since the majority of marine species BRTs have been used to predict habitat suitability, we first compared BRTs to GAMs that used presence/absence as the response variable. We then compared results from these habitat suitability models to GAMs that predict species density (animals km-2) because density models built with a subset of the data used here have previously received extensive validation. We compared both the explanatory power (i.e., model goodness-of-fit) and predictive power (i.e., performance on a novel dataset) of the GAMs and BRTs for a taxonomically diverse suite of cetacean species using a robust set of systematic survey data (1991-2014) within the California Current Ecosystem. Both BRTs and GAMs were successful at describing overall distribution patterns throughout the study area for the majority of species considered, but when predicting on novel data, the density GAMs exhibited substantially greater predictive power than both the presence/absence GAMs and BRTs, likely due to both the different response variables and fitting algorithms. Our results provide an improved understanding of some of the strengths and limitations of models developed using these two methods. These results can be used by modelers developing SDMs and resource managers tasked with the spatial management of marine species to determine the best modeling technique for their question of interest.


These models have been used by the Navy and others to assess potential impacts on cetaceans in compliance with U.S. regulations such as the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act, which require species specific assessments of the number of animals potentially affected by their activities.


Theme Keywords

Thesaurus Keyword
ISO 19115 Topic Category biota
ISO 19115 Topic Category oceans
None Balaenoptera musculus
None Balaenoptera physalus
None Berardius bairdii
None California Current Ecosystem
None cetacean
None Delphinus delphis bairdii
None Delphinus delphis delphis
None density
None distribution
None Grampus griseus
None Lagenorhynchus obliquidens
None Lissodelphis borealis
None Megaptera novaeangliae
None Phocoenoides dalli
None Physeter macrocephalus
None small beaked whales
None Stenella coeruleoalba
None Tursiops truncatus

Spatial Keywords

Thesaurus Keyword
None California
None Eastern Pacific Ocean
None Oregon
None Washington

Data Set Information

Data Set Scope Code: Data Set
Maintenance Frequency: Irregular
Data Presentation Form: Map (digital)
Data Set Credit: CREDIT: Becker, E.A., J.V. Carretta, K.A. Forney, J. Barlow, S. Brodie, R. Hoopes, M.G. Jacox, S.M. Maxwell, J.V. Redfern, N.B. Sisson, H. Welch, E.L. Hazen. 2020. Performance evaluation of cetacean species distribution models developed using generalized additive models and boosted regression trees. Ecology and Evolution, 10, 5759-5784. For Blue_whale_winter_spring: Hazen, E. L., Palacios, D. M., Forney, K. A., Howell, E. A., Becker, E., Hoover, A. L., … Bailey, H. (2017). WhaleWatch: A dynamic management tool for predicting blue whale density in the California Current. Journal of Applied Ecology, 54(5), 1415–1428.‐2664.12820 For Humpback_whale_winter_spring and Fin_whale_winter_spring: U.S. Department of the Navy. (2019). U.S. Navy Marine Species Density Database Phase III for the Northwest Training and Testing Study Area. NAVFAC Pacific Technical Report. Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific, Pearl Harbor, HI. 262 pp. ORIGINATORS: Southwest Fisheries Science Center;

Support Roles

Data Steward

CC ID: 998815
Date Effective From: 2018-06
Date Effective To:
Contact (Person): Haverland, Timothy J
Address: 1315 East West Hwy
Silver Spring, MD 20910-3282
Email Address:
Phone: 301-427-8137
Fax: 301-713-4137


CC ID: 998816
Date Effective From: 2018-06
Date Effective To:
Contact (Organization): NMFS Office of Science and Technology (OST)
Address: 1315 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Phone: 301-427-8100
Business Hours: 0700 - 1800 EST/EDT

Metadata Contact

CC ID: 998818
Date Effective From: 2018-06
Date Effective To:
Contact (Person): Haverland, Timothy J
Address: 1315 East West Hwy
Silver Spring, MD 20910-3282
Email Address:
Phone: 301-427-8137
Fax: 301-713-4137

Point of Contact

CC ID: 998817
Date Effective From: 2018-06
Date Effective To:
Contact (Person): Forney, Karin A
Address: 7544 Sandholdt Rd
Moss Landing, CA 95039
Email Address:
Phone: 831-771-4155
Fax: (858) 546-7003
Business Hours: M-F 8:00 - 16:30


Currentness Reference: Publication Date

Extent Group 1

Extent Description:

California, Oregon, Washington, Eastern Pacific Ocean

Extent Group 1 / Geographic Area 1

CC ID: 998833
W° Bound: -131
E° Bound: -117.097556
N° Bound: 48.5061
S° Bound: 30.05

Extent Group 1 / Time Frame 1

CC ID: 998825
Time Frame Type: Range
Start: 1991-07-01 00:00:00+0000
End: 1991-11-30 00:00:00+0000

Extent Group 1 / Time Frame 2

CC ID: 998826
Time Frame Type: Range
Start: 1993-07-01 00:00:00+0000
End: 1993-11-30 00:00:00+0000

Extent Group 1 / Time Frame 3

CC ID: 998827
Time Frame Type: Range
Start: 1996-07-01 00:00:00+0000
End: 1996-11-30 00:00:00+0000

Extent Group 1 / Time Frame 4

CC ID: 998828
Time Frame Type: Range
Start: 2001-07-01 00:00:00+0000
End: 2001-11-30 00:00:00+0000

Extent Group 1 / Time Frame 5

CC ID: 998829
Time Frame Type: Range
Start: 2005-07-01 00:00:00+0000
End: 2005-11-30 00:00:00+0000

Extent Group 1 / Time Frame 6

CC ID: 998830
Time Frame Type: Range
Start: 2008-07-01 00:00:00+0000
End: 2008-11-30 00:00:00+0000

Extent Group 1 / Time Frame 7

CC ID: 998831
Time Frame Type: Range
Start: 2009-07-01 00:00:00+0000
End: 2009-11-30 00:00:00+0000

Extent Group 1 / Time Frame 8

CC ID: 998832
Time Frame Type: Range
Start: 2014-07-01 00:00:00+0000
End: 2014-11-30 00:00:00+0000

Spatial Information

Reference Systems

Reference System 1

CC ID: 998823

Coordinate Reference System

CRS Type: Geographic 2D
EPSG Code: EPSG:4326
EPSG Name: WGS 84
See Full Coordinate Reference System Information

Access Information

Security Class: Unclassified
Data Use Constraints:

*** No Warranty*** The user assumes the entire risk related to its use of these data. NMFS is providing these data "as is," and NMFS disclaims any and all warranties, whether express or implied, including (without limitation) any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. No warranty expressed or implied is made regarding the accuracy or utility of the data on any other system or for general or scientific purposes, nor shall the act of distribution constitute any such warranty. It is strongly recommended that careful attention be paid to the contents of the metadata file associated with these data to evaluate dataset limitations, restrictions or intended use. In no event will NMFS be liable to you or to any third party for any direct, indirect, incidental, consequential, special or exemplary damages or lost profit resulting from any use or misuse of these data.

Distribution Information

Distribution 1

CC ID: 998819
Download URL:
Distributor: NMFS Office of Science and Technology (OST) (2018-06 - Present)

Data access URL

File Type: File Geodatabase Feature Class

Technical Environment


Microsoft Windows 10 Version 10.0 (Build 18363) ; Esri ArcGIS

Data Quality

Completeness Report:

The entire study area was divided into approximately 7x10km cells (around 0.1° unprojected), and density, area, and abundance calculated for each.

Conceptual Consistency:

No measure of horizontal quality was performed.



Model outputs

CC ID: 998820
Source Contribution:

Model outputs

Process Steps

Process Step 1

CC ID: 998821

Outputs from models were assigned to cells in the study area.

Process Date/Time: 2020-05-11 00:00:00
Process Contact: Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC)
Phone (Voice): (858)546-7000

Child Items

Rubric scores updated every 15m

Rubric Score Type Title
Entity Attributes for all species

Catalog Details

Catalog Item ID: 63298
GUID: gov.noaa.nmfs.inport:63298
Metadata Record Created By: Timothy J Haverland
Metadata Record Created: 2020-12-10 22:07+0000
Metadata Record Last Modified By: SysAdmin InPortAdmin
Metadata Record Last Modified: 2022-08-09 17:11+0000
Metadata Record Published: 2020-12-22
Owner Org: OST
Metadata Publication Status: Published Externally
Do Not Publish?: N
Metadata Last Review Date: 2020-12-22
Metadata Review Frequency: 1 Year
Metadata Next Review Date: 2021-12-22