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Protected Species Research in the Northeast

We study the distribution and ecological relationships of protected species in the Northeast Ecosystem, and their interactions with humans.

Infographic weaving bycatch, visual surveys, passive acoustics, telemetry, remote surveys and ecosystem modeling into protected species research.

We conduct research on endangered fish species as well as sea birds, marine turtles, seals, whales, and dolphins that live or migrate off the coast of the northeastern United States. We look at their distribution, ecological relationships, and human interactions. This science helps to ensure the conservation and recovery of these species for future generations.

Protected Species We Study

Atlantic Salmon

The Atlantic Salmon Ecosystems Research Branch works on conservation assessments and research in support of endangered salmon and their ecosystems from Maine watersheds to coastal Greenland and the Northwest Atlantic Ocean.


The Seal Ecology and Assessment program focuses primarily on the abundance and distribution of gray and harbor seals in the Northwest Atlantic, their foraging ecology, and the impact of human activities on population growth.

Sea Turtles

Our Sea Turtle Ecology Research program strives to document local sea turtle species, their life history and ecology, turtle population dynamics, and natural and human-caused threats to sea turtles in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean.

Whales and Dolphins

Our Whale and Dolphin Research group investigates how these animals use the coastal and offshore areas of the Northwest Atlantic, and how to protect them from harmful conflicts with human activity.

Research to Reduce Risks to Protected Species


Climate change is increasing water temperatures, affecting circulation patterns and precipitation, and making both sea-level rise and increased water acidity likely. Marine animals and those that rely on associated watersheds are affected. To better prepare for this future, the Protected Species Branch works to support the Northeast Regional Action Plan for climate science.

Bycatch Reduction

Bycatch occurs when fishing gear unintentionally traps or catches protected species. The Protected Species Branch monitors protected species bycatch in U.S. Mid-Atlantic and Gulf of Maine commercial fisheries. We assist with reducing bycatch through gear research, marine mammal take reduction plans, and recovery plans for endangered sea turtles.

Passive Acoustics for Ecological Management

Our Passive Acoustic Research Group uses innovative passive acoustic technologies to understand the distribution, movements, and behavior of marine animals and the three-dimensional soundscapes in which they live. We also evaluate the impacts of human-made sounds on acoustically sensitive marine animals, to aid in management, monitoring, and conservation efforts.

Protected Species Fishing Gear Research

The Gear Research group works with industry to the fullest extent possible to develop and use technology and gear modifications that reduce the bycatch rate in commercial fishing gear. Working with stakeholders allows us to gain knowledge and increases the likelihood of acceptance and compliance with gear requirements that reduce this risk.

Wind Energy Development Decision Support

Building, operating, and decommissioning offshore wind power plants affects a number of our key mission areas, including protected species. We provide information to help the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management make informed decisions about offshore wind energy development and operations. We aim to balance the need for renewable energy and to ensure functional ecosystems for the protected species occupying these offshore areas.

River Connectivity and Watershed Processes

Our science center works with other NOAA line offices to implement an action plan to better understand how limits on upstream and downstream passage affect populations of Atlantic salmon and other sea-run fish. Over time, some water and land use practices have also impaired river habitats, so we partner with others to assess both past damage and ongoing restoration efforts to ensure functional connections between watersheds and marine ecosystems.

Artificial Intelligence and Protected Species

NOAA Fisheries has formed extensive collaborations to apply machine learning algorithms to identify protected species from images and acoustic recordings.

Surveys & Assessments

Aerial Surveys

Our aerial survey teams regularly monitor protected species populations aboard aircraft operated by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. These surveys collect data for three kinds of studies:

Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species

This comprehensive multi-agency research program in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean, from Maine to the Florida Keys, has been conducted since 2010. The AMAPPS project aims to regularly assess the abundance, distribution, ecology, and behavior of marine mammals, sea turtles, and seabirds and to place them in an ecosystem context. This information can then provide information in a format useful to resource managers and others who are studying these animals and implementing conservation mandates for conserving endangered and protected species and their habitats.

Atlantic Salmon Surveys

Our science center works with the Maine Department of Marine Resources under a co-operative agreement to monitor endangered Atlantic salmon adult returns, juveniles entering the ocean, and juvenile production in river habitat. Annual assessments report this information. Our approach to restoring this population is to partner with other groups, researchers, and communities.

Last updated by Northeast Fisheries Science Center on February 28, 2024