Evaluation of a method using survey counts and tag data to estimate the number of Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) using a coastal haulout in northwestern Alaska

Polar Biology
By: , and 

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Abstract

Increased periods of sparse sea ice over the continental shelf of the Chukchi Sea in late summer have reduced offshore haulout habitat for Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) and increased opportunities for human activities in the region. Knowing how many walruses could be affected by human activities would be useful to conservation decisions. Currently, there are no adequate estimates of walrus abundance in the northeastern Chukchi Sea during summer–early autumn. Estimating abundance in autumn might be possible from coastal surveys of hauled out walruses during periods when offshore sea ice is unavailable to walruses. We evaluated methods to estimate the size of the walrus population that was using a haulout on the coast of northwestern Alaska in autumn by using aerial photography to count the number of hauled out walruses (herd size) and data from 37 tagged walruses to estimate availability (proportion of population hauled out). We used two methods to estimate availability, direct proportions of hauled out tagged walruses and smoothed proportions using local polynomial regression. Point estimates of herd size (4200–38,000 walruses) and total population size (76,000–287,000 walruses) ranged widely among days and between the two methods of estimating availability. Estimates of population size were influenced most by variation in estimates of availability. Coastal surveys might be improved most by counting walruses when the greatest numbers are hauled out, thereby reducing the influence of availability on population size estimates. The chance of collecting data during peak haulout periods would be improved by conducting multiple surveys.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Evaluation of a method using survey counts and tag data to estimate the number of Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) using a coastal haulout in northwestern Alaska
Series title Polar Biology
DOI 10.1007/s00300-016-2060-5
Volume 40
Issue 7
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center Biology MFEB
Description 11 p.
First page 1359
Last page 1369