Aircraft Surveys

a person looks out of a plane window over channel islands national marine sanctuary
Sanctuary staff conducting a flight survey near the islands. Credit: Jessica Morten/NOAA

Sanctuary staff conduct monthly surveys via aircraft over the Santa Barbara Channel Traffic Separation Scheme to track the distribution of large whales within the heavily trafficked shipping lanes.

Trained marine mammal observers from the sanctuary and NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service fly at 1,000 feet and record whale sightings by noting species type, number of individuals, and GPS location using the SpotterPro app. The observations are added to the marine mammal sighting database that is shared with research partners, and maps are generated to visualize changes in the distribution of large whales and to inform ongoing policy efforts to reduce the risk of ship strikes.