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North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) scenario planning summary report

December 31, 2020

Scenario planning provides a structured framework that can be used in strategic planning to help manage risk and prioritize actions (Schwartz 1996; Peterson et al. 2003). By providing a mechanism to communicate about complex situations, scenario planning encourages “out-of-the-box” thinking to help groups assess the impacts of plausible future scenarios on a target or resource. The outcomes from scenario planning can be used to improve management decisions, highlight data gaps, and/or identify future science priorities (Star et al. 2015; Borggaard et al. 2019).
The application of scenario planning by resource management organizations (e.g., Borggaard et al. 2019; Runyon et al. 2020; Star et al. 2015) and the urgency surrounding the recovery of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), led to a 2018 NOAA Fisheries scenario planning initiative for the species. In addition to complementing the many management and conservation efforts already underway, this initiative was designed to address the uncertainties around future anthropogenic and environmental changes and how these uncertainties may impact species recovery.
We used a scenario planning framework to explore plausible future conditions for North Atlantic right whales and to develop possible options to address those conditions and improve recovery. Specific objectives were to: 1) better understand the challenges of right whale management in a changing climate; 2) identify potential research activities and recovery needs across the species’ range; 3) increase coordination and collaboration related to recovery efforts; and 4) explore how scenario planning can be used to support decisions.
Using projected changes in ocean conditions coupled with anthropogenic stressors, we built four plausible future scenarios for right whales. These scenarios helped identify priority research and management actions that NOAA Fisheries and our partners can undertake to improve right whale recovery. We identified priority actions related to science, management, and partnerships including, but not limited to, 1) research on shifting spatial and temporal distributions of right whales and prey in a changing climate; 2) development of technology to further reduce impacts from human activities; 3) continuation of ongoing management efforts related to vessel traffic and fishing; and 4) continued maintenance of existing and development of new partnerships (e.g., industry engagement in problem solving).
This scenario planning exercise helped prioritize North Atlantic right whale management and science needs in light of changing ocean conditions and anthropogenic impacts. It can also serve as a reference for how NOAA Fisheries and its partners can better prepare for multiple plausible futures while complementing other on-going initiatives. Priorities identified here can be considered in conjunction with implementation and monitoring actions such as with the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team (ALWTRT) and/or regional Right Whale U.S. Implementation Teams. The framework can also be repeated and improved upon as additional information becomes available to support future exercises.

Publication Year 2020
Title North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) scenario planning summary report
Authors Diane Borggaard, Dori Dick, Jonathan Star, Barbara Zoodsma, Michael A. Alexander, Michael J. Asaro, Lynne Barre, Shannon Bettridge, Peter Burns, Julie Crocker, Quay Dortch, Lance Garrison, Frances Gulland, Ben Haskell, Sean Hayes, Allison Henry, K. Hyde, Henry Milliken, David Morin, John Quinlan, Teri Rowles, Vincent Saba, Michelle Staudinger, Harvey Walsh
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Series Title Technical Memorandum
Series Number MNFS-OPR-68
Index ID 70216078
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center