Surveying the distribution and abundance of flying fishes and other epipelagics in the northern Gulf of Mexico using airborne lidar Academic Article uri icon


  • 2017 Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science of the University of Miami. Flying fshes (family Exocoetidae) are important components of epipelagic ecosystems and are targeted by fshing feets in the Caribbean Sea and elsewhere. However, owing to their anti-predator behavior and habitats, their ecology, abundance, and distributions are only partially known. From September 20 to October 6, 2011, we conducted a series of surveys over a large area (approximately 75,000 km2) of the northern Gulf of Mexico (87W-90.5W, 28N-30N). Te surveys used an airborne lidar and vessel-based sampling, supported by near real time satellite observations of oceanic conditions. Te aerial survey was conducted from a fxed wing aircraft that few repeated surveys day and night, enabling data collection that was both broad-scale and synoptic. Vessel-based sampling included quantitative visual observations, trawl sampling, and qualitative dip-netting for species identifcations. Te combined surveys identifed large aggregations of epipelagic organisms dominated by flying fshes. Large numbers of jellyfsh (Aurelia sp.) and low numbers of numerous other species were also observed. Te putative flying fsh aggregations had an average length scale of 6.1 km and an average population estimated at 10,000 individuals. While always near the surface, flying fsh aggregations were slightly deeper at night than during the day and found most often off the continental shelf in warm water with low chlorophyll concentrations. At least three species were present: Hirundichthys rondeletii (Valenciennes, 1847), Cheilopogon melanurus (Valenciennes, 1847), and Prognichthys occidentalis Parin, 1999. Tis combination of aerial and surface surveys aforded repeated synoptic, ground-truthed data collection over a large area and indicates that this method could be useful for surveying such mobile epipelagic fshes.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Churnside, J. H., Wells, R., Boswell, K. M., Quinlan, J. A., Marchbanks, R. D., McCarty, B. J., & Sutton, T. T.

citation count

  • 15

complete list of authors

  • Churnside, James H||Wells, RJ David||Boswell, Kevin M||Quinlan, John A||Marchbanks, Richard D||McCarty, Brandi J||Sutton, Tracey T

publication date

  • April 2017