ESR 34:149-165 (2017)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00845

Animal Counting Toolkit: a practical guide to small-boat surveys for estimating abundance of coastal marine mammals

Rob Williams1,2,3,*, Erin Ashe1,2,3, Katie Gaut4, Rowenna Gryba5, Jeffrey E. Moore6, Eric Rexstad7, Doug Sandilands1, Justin Steventon8, Randall R. Reeves9

1Oceans Initiative, 2219 Fairview Ave E., Slip 9, Seattle, WA 98102, USA
2Oceans Research and Conservation Association, Pearse Island, Box 193, Alert Bay, V0N 1A0, Canada
3Sea Mammal Research Unit, Scottish Oceans Institute, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 8LB, UK
4Blue Water GIS, 3321 Kelly Road, Bellingham, WA 98226, USA
5Stantec, 500-4730 Kingsway, Burnaby, BC, V5H 0C6, Canada
6Protected Resources Division, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, 8901 La Jolla Shores Dr, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA
7Centre for Research into Ecological & Environmental Modelling, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 9LZ, UK
8Steventon Consulting, Seattle, WA 98033, USA
9Okapi Wildlife Associates, 27 Chandler Lane, Hudson, Quebec, JOP 1HO, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Small cetaceans (dolphins and porpoises) face serious anthropogenic threats in coastal habitats. These include bycatch in fisheries; exposure to noise, plastic and chemical pollution; disturbance from boaters; and climate change. Generating reliable abundance estimates is essential to assess sustainability of bycatch in fishing gear or any other form of anthropogenic removals and to design conservation and recovery plans for endangered species. Cetacean abundance estimates are lacking from many coastal waters of many developing countries. Lack of funding and training opportunities makes it difficult to fill in data gaps. Even if international funding were found for surveys in developing countries, building local capacity would be necessary to sustain efforts over time to detect trends and monitor biodiversity loss. Large-scale, shipboard surveys can cost tens of thousands of US dollars each day. We focus on methods to generate preliminary abundance estimates from low-cost, small-boat surveys that embrace a ‘training-while-doing’ approach to fill in data gaps while simultaneously building regional capacity for data collection. Our toolkit offers practical guidance on simple design and field data collection protocols that work with small boats and small budgets, but expect analysis to involve collaboration with a quantitative ecologist or statistician. Our audience includes independent scientists, government conservation agencies, NGOs and indigenous coastal communities, with a primary focus on fisheries bycatch. We apply our Animal Counting Toolkit to a small-boat survey in Canada’s Pacific coastal waters to illustrate the key steps in collecting line transect survey data used to estimate and monitor marine mammal abundance.


KEY WORDS: Abundance · Boat · Bycatch · Capacity · Conservation · Dolphin


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Cite this article as: Williams R, Ashe E, Gaut K, Gryba R and others (2017) Animal Counting Toolkit: a practical guide to small-boat surveys for estimating abundance of coastal marine mammals. Endang Species Res 34:149-165. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00845

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