Distribution and Abundance of the Eastern Canada – West Greenland Bowhead Whale Population Based on the 2013 High Arctic Cetacean Survey
The hunting of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) is an integral part of Inuit culture. An up-to-date abundance estimate of the entire Eastern Canada – West Greenland (EC-WG) bowhead population is necessary to support sustainable management of this harvest. The High Arctic Cetacean Survey (HACS) was conducted in August 2013, primarily to update abundance estimates for known stocks of Baffin Bay narwhal (Monodon monoceros). As the ranges of narwhal and bowhead largely overlap, the survey area was expanded to cover the summer range of bowhead whales. Bowhead whale abundance was estimated using 3 aircraft to cover the large survey area within a short time frame. Distance sampling methods were used to estimate detection probability away from the track line. Double platform with mark-recapture methods were used to correct for the proportion of whales missed by visual observers on the track line (perception bias). Abundance in Isabella Bay, an area known for high bowhead density, was estimated using density surface modelling to account for its complex shape and uneven coverage. Estimates were corrected for availability bias (whales that were not available for detection because they were submerged when the aircraft passed overhead) using a recent analysis of satellite-linked time depth recorders transmitting information on the diving behaviour of bowhead whales in the study area in August of the same survey year. The fully corrected abundance estimate for the EC-WG bowhead whale population was 6,446 (95% CI: 3,838–10,827). Possible sources of uncertainty include incomplete coverage and the diving behaviour of bowhead whales. These results confirm earlier indications that the EC-WG stock is continuing to recover from past overexploitation.
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