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ESR 25:141-150 (2014)  -  DOI:

Improved abundance and trend estimates for sperm whales in the eastern North Pacific from Bayesian hierarchical modeling

Jeffrey E. Moore*, Jay P. Barlow

Marine Mammal and Turtle Division, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, 8901 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla, California 92037, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Population abundance and trends are informative metrics for assessing population status and basing management decisions, but it can be challenging to estimate these metrics for species that are difficult to detect. We used a Bayesian hierarchical approach to improve estimates of abundance and trends for sperm whales Physeter macrocephalus in the California Current based on 6 surveys conducted from 1991 to 2008. The method consists either of a regression trend or Markov process model for true abundance in the study area and an observation model used to estimate detection probability (in our case, based on line-transect distance sampling methods). Our approach improves upon models that we have applied to other cetacean species by incorporating direct estimates of sampling variance in the number of groups encountered (to reduce estimates of process variance) and by using an alternative to the commonly used Horvitz-Thompson-like estimator to better deal with covariate-dependent detection probability estimation when sample sizes are small. Our abundance estimates were much less variable through time than previously published estimates; this has important implications for management under the US Marine Mammal Protection Act. We were unable to precisely estimate overall abundance trends for sperm whales in the study area, but we estimated a high probability that small-group abundance, likely representing adult male abundance, has increased.

KEY WORDS: Detectability · Distance sampling · Marine Mammal Protection Act · Markov process · Overdispersion · Physeter macrocephalus · Population assessment

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Cite this article as: Moore JE, Barlow JP (2014) Improved abundance and trend estimates for sperm whales in the eastern North Pacific from Bayesian hierarchical modeling. Endang Species Res 25:141-150.

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