Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology allows for the integration of geographic data and advanced analyses of marine datasets. Using this technology, researchers can discover new patterns and relationships between species and their habitats and explore the implications of conservation actions.

Project Objectives

  • Use innovative technology to explore relationships between marine organisms and their environments.
  • Integrate spatial techniques, tools and knowledge into existing and new programs


GIS integrates disparate datasets to

investigate geospatial patterns and


Assessment of Potential Offshore Aquaculture sites in the Gulf of Maine

As the demand for fish protein increases throughout the world, the U.S. federal government and private companies are looking for new places for aquaculture facilities. The Gulf of Maine is one of most productive marine ecosystems in the world and is attracting interest for offshore aquaculture locations. We are looking at the current spatial and temporal patterns of shipping, fishing, and marine mammals to understand the potential conflicts aquaculture facilities might cause in any one location in the Gulf of Maine. Space-use patterns of these user groups will be tied to economic analysis to estimate the economic value of any one parcel of ocean. This analysis provides the foundation of ecosystem-based management by incorporating human and ecosystem factors.

Satellite Tagging technology allows us

to map locations of our rescued and

rehabilitated animals.

Satellite Tagging

Marine biologists are only able to glimpse into the lives of marine animals during field expeditions or laboratory studies. Satellite tagging technology allows researchers to follow the animal’s patterns and diving profiles while they are traveling in their natural environment. The New England Aquarium uses this technology to understand how well our rehabilitated or rescued animals are surviving when they are released back into the wild. Before this technology, we released animals back into their natural environment without an assessment of their survival or of our success for rehabilitation. Satellite tagging technology gives our biologists instant feedback on the animals swimming speed and diving depths after release, which allows for continuous assessment of the health of these animals. Continuous satellite tagging funding and research on released animals will allow future studies on habitat choices and seasonal patterns for these species, which will provide a deeper understanding of the biology of these animals. GIS technology plays an important role in mapping out these satellite locations and dive profiles while integrating depth to the seafloor and other oceanographic features to further understand these patterns.

Fishing Gear and Right Whales

Entanglement in fishing gear is one of the leading causes of mortality for North Atlantic right whales. The types of fishing gear that entangle right whales have been well studied, but where and when the entanglements occur is less understood. Aquarium scientists are using GIS and fishing vessel trip reports (FVTR) to analyze the spatial patterns and intensity of fixed gear fishing activities in the Gulf of Maine. These self-reported locations of fishing activity are analyzed on a seasonal basis and compared to right whale distributions over the same temporal scale to understand potential space-use conflicts. Scientists will then further study the potential conflict areas by investigating the current management actions in place and rank the relative risk of entanglement for right whales. A better understanding of these potential conflict areas can help managers modify current strategies to help recover this critically endangered species.

Shipping Activities in the Right Whale Calving Ground

Vessel strikes accounted for 80 percent of right whale mortalities between 2004 and 2006. Despite considerable education and outreach efforts, right whale mortalities still occur throughout this range. As part of the ship strike mitigation effort, the New England Aquarium flies aerial surveys over the waters off the southeast United States, the only known location for right whale calving, to warn ships of right whale activity. During these surveys, researchers record ship activity in the area, including vessel type and speed. These data are used to analyze vessel activity patterns within certain locations and times to investigate whether ships that received the information provided by our aerial surveys alter their speeds or courses in response. These studies will provide valuable information to right whale researchers in regards to vessel traffic patterns, speed and response by vessel type.

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Port Biological Monitoring

A new LNG terminal is currently operating off the coast of Massachusetts with another planned for construction, the New England Aquarium research team is responsible for monitoring the biological communities around this facility. The researchers are deploying hydro-acoustic and acoustic receiver technologies to help understand the quantity and diversity of species that are using this port facility area. Having the two facilities in different stages of construction allows researchers to test hypotheses about the structural influence on the biological communities. GIS technology is an important component of this project that will ease data integration and allow for 3-dimensional display, and analysis over time. The demand for natural gas is on the rise and there are currently 25 approved offshore LNG facilities and 13 proposed in the United States, the results from this project will be seminal in understanding the impact on the surrounding marine ecology for future projects.

Integrating Geospatial Technology in the Harbor Discoveries Summer Camp

Harbor Discoveries is an environmental science-focused summer camp based at the New England Aquarium where campers study New England’s coastal and marine environment. Researchers and educators integrate geospatial technologies into summer camp activities to give the students exposure to such technological and scientific concepts as Global Position Systems and Geographic Information Systems. The campers use these technologies to collect, display and analyze data from the field. At the end of the week, they present their maps and results to their parents and the New England Aquarium community.