As whales recover from commercial exploitation, they are increasing in abundance in habitats that they have been absent from for decades. However, studying the recovery and habitat use patterns of whales, particularly in remote and inaccessible regions, frequently poses logistical and economic challenges. Here we trial a new approach for measuring whale density in a remote area, using Very-High-Resolution WorldView-3 satellite imagery. This approach has capacity to provide sightings data to complement and assist traditional sightings surveys. We compare at-sea whale density estimates to estimates derived from satellite imagery collected at a similar time, and use suction-cup archival logger data to make an adjustment for surface availability. We demonstrate that satellite imagery can provide useful data on whale occurrence and density. Densities, when unadjusted for surface availability are shown to be considerably lower than those estimated by the ship survey. However, adjusted for surface availability and weather conditions (0.13 whales per km2, CV = 0.38), they fall within an order of magnitude of those derived by traditional line-transect estimates (0.33 whales per km2, CV = 0.09). Satellite surveys represent an exciting development for high-resolution image-based cetacean observation at sea, particularly in inaccessible regions, presenting opportunities for ongoing and future research.
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