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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Population estimate and rate of increase of southern right whales Eubalaena australis in southeastern Australia

K. Stamation*, M. Watson, P. Moloney, C. Charlton, J. Bannister

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: In Australian waters, southern right whales Eubalaena australis form 2 genetically distinct populations that have shown contrasting patterns of recovery since whaling ceased: a western population in South Australia and Western Australia and an eastern population in southeastern Australia (Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales). Here, we provide an abundance estimate derived from a breeding female superpopulation mark-recapture model for the southeastern southern right whale population. The population comprises 268 individuals (68 breeding females) and has increased at a rate of 4.7% per annum between 1996 and 2017. There has been no significant change in the annual abundance of mother-calf pairs sighted at the only calving ground (Logans Beach in Victoria) over the last 3 decades. The number of all southern right whales (i.e. all adults and calves) using the south-east Australian coastline has increased by 7% since 1985. Unlike the population estimate (which was restricted to breeding females sighted prior to the post-breeding southward migration) this estimate is likely to include transiting whales from the southwestern population. The theoretical population model predicts 19 breeding females at Logans Beach in 2018 and 28 in 2028, the actual number of breeding females, as of 2018, is 14. This study provides the first complete estimate of population size and rate of increase of southern right whales along the southeastern Australian coastline. This knowledge is critical for assessing population status and recovery of southern right whales in Australia. It provides us a basis to monitoring persistence and responses of the population to environmental stressors.