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Research Document - 2012/017

Review of Methods for Eastern Canada-West Greenland Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysticetus) Population Abundance Estimation

By W.R. Koski and S.H. Ferguson


Bowhead whales are a key ecosystem species in the Eastern Canadian Arctic. They are slow-growing, late-maturing baleen wales with low reproductive rates and high survival. Little biological information is available on the Eastern Canada-West Greenland population and population size is unknown. Bowhead hunts have recently been initiated in Canada and Greenland. Reductions in sea ice appear to have resulted in increased predation by killer whales. Historic surveys covered only part of the bowhead’s range and are negatively biased as a result. Therefore, there is a need for an estimate of population size to properly manage this population. Five survey options were peer reviewed and are summarised as follows:  aerial surveys of summer or overwintering areas, mark-recapture estimates from photographic surveys, mark-recapture estimates from genetic sampling, vessel- or shore-based surveys, and acoustic surveys; none are clearly superior. However, only aerial surveys and photographic mark-recapture estimates are considered viable to make a population estimates in the short term. Advantages and disadvantages of each method are summarised.

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