Accounting for subgroup structure in line-transect abundance estimates of false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) in Hawaiian waters

TitleAccounting for subgroup structure in line-transect abundance estimates of false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) in Hawaiian waters
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsBradford A.L, Forney KA, Oleson E.M, Barlow J
JournalPlos One
Date Published2014/02
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number1932-6203
Accession NumberWOS:000332396200206
Keywordsbehavior; cetaceans; design; islands; patterns; population; responsive movement; size; social units; tropical pacific-ocean

For biological populations that form aggregations (or clusters) of individuals, cluster size is an important parameter in line-transect abundance estimation and should be accurately measured. Cluster size in cetaceans has traditionally been represented as the total number of individuals in a group, but group size may be underestimated if group members are spatially diffuse. Groups of false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) can comprise numerous subgroups that are dispersed over tens of kilometers, leading to a spatial mismatch between a detected group and the theoretical framework of line-transect analysis. Three stocks of false killer whales are found within the U. S. Exclusive Economic Zone of the Hawaiian Islands (Hawaiian EEZ): an insular main Hawaiian Islands stock, a pelagic stock, and a Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) stock. A ship-based line-transect survey of the Hawaiian EEZ was conducted in the summer and fall of 2010, resulting in six systematic-effort visual sightings of pelagic (n = 5) and NWHI (n = 1) false killer whale groups. The maximum number and spatial extent of subgroups per sighting was 18 subgroups and 35 km, respectively. These sightings were combined with data from similar previous surveys and analyzed within the conventional line-transect estimation framework. The detection function, mean cluster size, and encounter rate were estimated separately to appropriately incorporate data collected using different methods. Unlike previous line-transect analyses of cetaceans, subgroups were treated as the analytical cluster instead of groups because subgroups better conform to the specifications of line-transect theory. Bootstrap values (n = 5,000) of the line-transect parameters were randomly combined to estimate the variance of stock-specific abundance estimates. Hawai'i pelagic and NWHI false killer whales were estimated to number 1,552 (CV = 0.66; 95% CI = 479-5,030) and 552 (CV = 1.09; 95% CI = 97-3,123) individuals, respectively. Subgroup structure is an important factor to consider in line-transect analyses of false killer whales and other species with complex grouping patterns.

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