Using Satellite AIS to Analyze Vessel Speeds Off the Coast of Washington State, U.S., as a Risk Analysis for Cetacean-Vessel Collisions
Greig NC, Hines EM, Cope S and Liu X (2020) Using Satellite AIS to Analyze Vessel Speeds Off the Coast of Washington State, U.S., as a Risk Analysis for Cetacean-Vessel Collisions. Front. Mar. Sci. 7:109. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2020.00109
Most species of whales are vulnerable to vessel collisions, and the probability of lethality increases logistically with vessel speed. An Automatic Identification System (AIS) can provide valuable vessel activity data, but terrestrial-based AIS has a limited spatial range. As the need for open ocean monitoring increases, AIS broadcasts relayed over earth-orbiting satellites, satellite AIS (SAIS), provides a method for expanding the range of AIS broadcast reception. We used SAIS data from 2013 and 2014 to calculate vessel density and speed over ground around the coast of Washington state in the northwestern United States. Nearby shipping lanes connecting the Ports of Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, and in Canada, Vancouver, have the greatest density of vessel traffic arriving and departing. Knowledge of shipping activity is important in this area due to the nearby presence of NOAA designated Cetacean Density and Distribution Working Group’s Biologically Important Areas (BIA) for large whale species vulnerable to vessel collisions. We quantified density and speed for each vessel type that transits through BIA’s. We found that cargo and tanker vessels traveled the farthest distance at the greatest speeds. As ship-strike risk assessments have traditionally relied on terrestrial AIS, we explored issues in the application of SAIS data. Temporal gaps in SAIS data led to a resulting systematic underestimation of vessel speed in calculated speed over ground. However, SAIS can be helpful in documenting minimum vessel speeds across large geographic areas and across national boundaries, especially beyond the reach of terrestrial AIS receivers. SAIS data can also be useful in examining vessel density at broad scales and could be used to assess basin-wide open ocean routes. Future use of additional satellite platforms with AIS receivers and technological advances will help rectify this issue and improve data coverage and quality.