Right whales inhabit some of the most heavily used areas of the western North Atlantic. The western North Atlantic ocean is known as an urban or industrial ocean, due to the extreme amounts of commercial and recreational ship traffic and fishing pressure. Shipping lanes are so dense with traffic in some areas that they at times resemble congested highways.

We use GIS technology to better understand how human actions, on land and at sea, impact the marine environment and the North Atlantic right whale. Our land-based impact analysis included a compilation of toxic releases, human population density and percent agriculture for every watershed that drains into right whale habitat. Our marine impact analysis considered commercial fishing and shipping densities, and the locations of dumping sites for dredging operations. By combining these two analyses on a single map, we were able to look at the total potential scope of how and where human activities might be impacting the right whale population.

Our results were included in The Urban Whale, a cumulative review of our current knowledge about the biology and plight of right whales, including their reproduction, feeding, genetics, and endocrinology, as well as fatal run-ins with ships and fishing gear.