Fin whale survival and abundance in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada

Christian Ramp, Julien Delarue, Martine Bérubé, Philip Steven Hammond, Richard Sears

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The fin whale Balaenoptera physalus, the second largest species in the animal kingdom to have lived on Earth, was heavily targeted during the industrial whaling era. North Atlantic whaling for this species ended in 1987 and it is unclear if the populations are recovering. The stock structure in the North Atlantic is still under debate, but several lines of evidence suggest that fin whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence may form a discrete stock with limited exchange with the rest of the North Atlantic. We applied mark-recapture models to 21 yr of photo-identification data from the Jacques-Cartier Passage to estimate the abundance and, for the first time, a survival rate based on live re-sightings for this stock of fin whales. Using the Cormack-Jolly-Seber model, we estimated a unisex non-calf apparent survival rate of 0.955 (95% CI: 0.936 to 0.969) for the period 1990 to 2010, declining in the last 4 yr of the study. The reduced survivorship was likely caused by a lower site fidelity combined with a higher mortality. The POPAN model yielded a super-population estimate of 328 individuals (95% CI: 306 to 350) for the period 2004 to 2010, and confirmed the negative trend in apparent survival and annual abundance, indicating that the population has not increased since the last large-scale surveys from 1974 and 1997.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-132
JournalEndangered Species Research
Issue number2
Early online date28 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Fin whale
  • Mark-recapture
  • Survival
  • Abundance
  • Modeling


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