smartWhales: Innovative, Space-Based Solutions for the Protection of the North Atlantic Right Whale (NARW)

SIMBASystème Intégré de Modélisation de la Baleine noire de l’Atlantique Nord

(Integrated modelling system for the North Atlantic right whale)

This integrated modelling system for the North Atlantic right whale could help predict the presence of this endangered species in the Northwest Atlantic shelf, with a focus on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Gulf of Maine. The project team will develop models based on high-resolution operational circulation models and satellite-derived bio-optical variables using North Atlantic right whale’s preferred zooplankton prey, the Calanus, as a sentinel species. Our novel tools could provide additional information to the Government of Canada that may help further inform decisions related to management measures in areas where North Atlantic right whales and human activities co-exist.

The SIMBA project has been included within the smartWhales portfolio of projects, supported by the Canadian Space Agency, in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada.

Project overview

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada assessed the North Atlantic right whale as endangered. Among the many threats they face, North Atlantic right whales may sustain injuries that could be fatal, due to collisions with vessels or entanglements in fishing gear when searching for their main zooplankton prey. The distribution and abundance of the lipid-rich copepod Calanus, one of their preferred prey, changed dramatically at the turn of the 2010s. North Atlantic right whales responded rapidly by altering their distribution patterns to include new feeding grounds, especially further north in Canadian waters.

The increased presence of North Atlantic right whales in Canadian waters in the spring and summer is driven by the presence of the abundant zooplankton species that accumulates near the sea surface in the Gulf of St Lawrence. Our integrated modelling system for North Atlantic right whales could develop user-friendly predictive tools and critical data that may help identify the presence of North Atlantic right whale’s preferred prey in specific areas at a given time. This could help support decision-makers when determining management measures for human activities in areas frequented by North Atlantic right whales.


Our international consortium is composed of partners from private companies (Arctus, ACRI-st, Hatfield Consultants, M-Expertise Marine), academia (Takuvik, Université Laval), research centers (Bigelow Laboratory for ocean sciences, Merinov) and not-for-profit organizations (Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life – New-England Aquarium), from Canada, the United States, and France.

Find out more

To learn more on this initiative, see the full announcement on the Canadian Space Agency’s website and read the Radio-Canada article (in French).