The BIA 1 documents underwent a two-step review process by scientists with expertise in particular species and regions to ensure that the information presented is accurate, based on the best available knowledge, presented consistently across regions, and supported by the references cited and metadata tables. The first review was undertaken by members of the CetMap Working Group, and the second review was undertaken by scientists at each of NOAA’s Fisheries Science Centers. A set of eight manuscripts were submitted to a scientific journal for external peer-review by subject matter experts and ultimately published in Aquatic Mammals as a special issue. The first manuscript in the collection details the methods used to identify the Important Areas and discuss the strengths and limitations of the Important Area identification process and associated products; the subsequent seven manuscripts present each region’s Important Area documents in their entirety. Metadata tables detail the type and quantity of information used to define the Important Area.
Important Considerations and Caveats
The following caveats should be kept in mind when using BIA 1 areas in environmental assessments or impact analyses:
- Areas outside of the US EEZ were not evaluated as part of the BIA 1 exercise; however, available information for outlying areas was considered when determining whether areas within the US EEZ should be considered biologically important. Therefore, absence of BIA designations outside of the US EEZ should NOT be interpreted to mean absence of BIAs in those outlying waters.
- Only known areas and periods of biological importance were identified; other areas that are biologically important to cetaceans could exist within the U.S. EEZ but not be included here due to insufficient information.
- The quantity and type of data from within the U.S. EEZ used to define the Important Areas were spatially and temporally heterogeneous. The types of data used included sighting, acoustic, tagging, genetic, and photo identification data.
- The Important Area summaries and metadata tables should be consulted to determine which regions and periods were considered, what data support the designations, and where and when information is lacking.
The Important Area designation is not equivalent to habitat or range. For distinctly migratory species or populations, Important Areas highlight specific locations and periods within which critical behaviors occur and likely represent only a fraction of the overall range. In contrast, an Important Area designation encompasses the entire known range of small or resident cetacean populations within an indicated period, but does not identify habitat structure within the Important Area.
As described, the purpose of identifying these areas is to help resource managers with planning and analysis through the augmentation of existing spatial tools. For that reason, certain criteria were included in the definitions of the BIAs to increase their utility. Specifically, we restrict the fourth type of BIA to “small and resident” populations “occupying a limited geographic extent” because NOAA’s stock assessment reports already cite the range and abundance of all US marine mammal species or populations, including small or resident populations whose range is either unknown or relatively large. While BIA 1 does not explicitly define “small,” we highlighted populations whose ranges span only a bay, an area around one island, or a portion of what CetMap defines as a region.
Additionally, areas that have been officially designated by NOAA as “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act were included in part or in their entirety only if they meet the definition of BIAs. The decision to not designate certain critical habitat areas as BIAs should not be interpreted as undermining the value of the critical habitat area; the development of critical habitat considers a complex combination of factors that do not always match the simple definitions of BIAs, and therefore not everything identified as critical habitat will meet the BIA criteria, and vice versa. In the few instances where small or resident populations have been identified that we determined occupied too large of a range to delineate as a BIA, or a designated critical habitat area exists that does not meet the definition of a BIA, we have still included text in the narrative highlighting the population or area and the rationale for not designating a BIA.