The number of North Pacific Humpback Whales in the 2008 study known as the Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance and Status of Humpbacks, or SPLASH, was estimated at just under 20,000 based on a preliminary look at the data. This new research indicates the population to be over 21,000 and possibly even higher – a significant improvement to the scant 1400 humpback whales estimated in the North Pacific Ocean at the end of commercial whaling in 1966.
A humpback whale calf breaching off Hawaii. Credit: HIHWNMS NOAA Fisheries Permit #782-1438
"These improved numbers are encouraging, especially after we have reduced most of the biases inherent in any statistical model," said Jay Barlow, NOAAs Fisheries Service marine mammal biologist at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif. "We feel the numbers may even be larger since there have been across-the-board increases in known population areas and unknown areas have probably seen the same increases."The SPLASH research was a three-year project begun in 2004 involving NOAA scientists and hundreds of other researchers from the United States, Japan, Russia, Mexico, Canada, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua and Guatemala and was the first systematic survey ever attempted to determine the humpback whales' overall population, structure, and genetic makeup in the North Pacific.
"This latest revision to the study provides an accurate estimate for humpback whales in an entire ocean that could not have been possible without researchers working together to pool data," said John Calambokidis, senior research biologist and co-founder of Cascadia Research. "While populations of some other whale species remain very low this shows that humpback whales are among those that have recovered strongly from whaling."
Barlow. J, Calambokidis. J, Falcone. E, Baker. C. S, Burdin. A. Clapham. P, Ford. J, Gabriele. C, LeDuc. R, Mattila. D, Quinn II. T, Rojas-Bracho. L, Straley. J, Taylor. B, Urbán. J, Wade. P, Weller. D, Witteveen. B, Yamaguchi. M, "Humpback whale abundance in the North Pacific estimated by photographic capture-recapture with bias correction from simulation studies", Marine Mammal Science, Wiley-Blackwell, 2011, DOI:10.1111/j.1748-7692.2010.00444.x http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1748-7692.2010.00444.x/abstract
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