Declining Abundance of Beaked Whales ( Family Ziphiidae) in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem

TitleDeclining Abundance of Beaked Whales ( Family Ziphiidae) in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsMoore JE, Barlow JP
JournalPlos One
Date Published2013/01
ISBN Number1932-6203
Accession NumberWOS:000313682700014

Beaked whales are among the most diverse yet least understood groups of marine mammals. A diverse set of mostly anthropogenic threats necessitates improvement in our ability to assess population status for this cryptic group. The Southwest Fisheries Science Center (NOAA) conducted six ship line-transect cetacean abundance surveys in the California Current off the contiguous western United States between 1991 and 2008. We used a Bayesian hidden-process modeling approach to estimate abundance and population trends of beaked whales using sightings data from these surveys. We also compiled records of beaked whale stranding events (3 genera, at least 8 species) on adjacent beaches from 1900 to 2012, to help assess population status of beaked whales in the northern part of the California Current. Bayesian posterior summaries for trend parameters provide strong evidence of declining beaked whale abundance in the study area. The probability of negative trend for Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) during 1991ā€“2008 was 0.84, with 1991 and 2008 estimates of 10771 (CV = 0.51) and ā‰ˆ7550 (CV = 0.55), respectively. The probability of decline for Mesoplodon spp. (pooled across species) was 0.96, with 1991 and 2008 estimates of 2206 (CV = 0.46) and 811 (CV = 0.65). The mean posterior estimates for average rate of decline were 2.9% and 7.0% per year. There was no evidence of abundance trend for Baird's beaked whale (Berardius bairdii), for which annual abundance estimates in the survey area ranged from ā‰ˆ900 to 1300 (CVā‰ˆ1.3). Stranding data were consistent with the survey results. Causes of apparent declines are unknown. Direct impacts of fisheries (bycatch) can be ruled out, but impacts of anthropogenic sound (e.g., naval active sonar) and ecosystem change are plausible hypotheses that merit investigation.

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