A new study focused on using expert elicitation to help try to plug data gaps for North Atlantic right whales (NARW) has recently been published by University of St Andrews scientists (and co-authors in the USA).

The new study attempts to plug a data gap in how NARW move along the Atlantic coast between higher latitudes and southern waters which is crucial to understand given the level of industrial activity in the region. High levels of shipping and seismic surveys for oil and gas developments have been common in the region, and now with the expansion of offshore wind projects in the US, short-term construction noise adds to the soundscape.

The highly industrialized mid-Atlantic region is part of the right whales’ migratory corridor, and gaps in knowledge of their movements through this region have limited the ability to make informed decisions about management of the species. To help fill these gaps, we elicited estimates of the relative abundance of adult right whales in the mid-Atlantic during 4 months (each month representing each season) from 10 experts on right whale ecology and management. We elicited the minimum, maximum, and mode as the number of individuals in a hypothetical population of 100 right whales, and confidence estimates as percentages. […] Our results supplement the results of these studies and will increase the accuracy of priors in complementary Bayesian models of right whale abundances and movements through the mid-Atlantic.

Full details of the models used can be seen in the paper here.

Why is this work important?

In order for effective regulation of offshore developments we need to make difficult decisions in the face of uncertainty. This paper outlines how expert elicitation can be used to plug gaps in the short term. Of course we want to collect further data and replace expert opinion – but when conservation/management decisions need to be made, this is an approach that can be a short term remedy..

Check out SMRU Consultings work in this area: