Cost-effective abundance estimation of rare marine animals: small-boat surveys for killer whales in British Colombia, Canada

R Williams, Len Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Top predators are often rare, subject to anthropogenic mortality, and possess life-history traits that make them inherently vulnerable to extinction. IUCN criteria recognise populations as Critically Endangered when abundance is <250 mature individuals, but estimating abundance of rare species can be more challenging than for common ones. Cost-effective methods are needed to provide robust abundance estimates. In marine environments, small boats are more widely accessible than large ships for researchers conducting sightings surveys with limited funds, but studies are needed into efficacy of small-boat surveys. This study compares line transect and mark-recapture estimates from small-boat surveys in summer 2004 and 2005 for 'northern resident' killer whales in British Columbia to true population size, known from censuses conducted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The line transect estimate of 195 animals (95% CI 27-559) used model averaging to incorporate uncertainty in the detection function, while the mark-recapture estimate of 239 animals (CI 154-370) used a simple two-sample Chapman estimator. Both methods produced estimates close to the true population size, which numbered 219 animals in 2004 and 235 in 2006, but both suffered from the small sample sizes and violations of some model assumptions that will vex most pilot studies of rare species. Initial abundance estimates from relatively low-cost surveys can be thought of as hypotheses to be tested as new data are collected. For species of conservation concern, any cost-effective attempt to estimate absolute abundance will assist status assessments, as long as estimates are presented with appropriate caveats. (C) 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1542-1547
Number of pages6
JournalBiological Conservation
Volume142
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2009

Keywords

  • Abundance
  • Cetacean
  • Distance sampling
  • Line transect
  • Mark-recapture
  • Model averaging
  • Small-boat survey
  • BOTTLE-NOSED DOLPHINS
  • LINE-TRANSECT SURVEYS
  • CAPTURE-RECAPTURE
  • MARINE MAMMALS
  • MODEL SELECTION
  • CONSERVATION
  • CETACEANS
  • VAQUITA
  • COASTAL
  • WATERS

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