Population status of the eastern North Pacific stock of gray whales in 2009

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Andre E. Punt
Paul R. Wade


An age- and sex-structured population dynamics model is fitted using Bayesian methods to data on the catches and abundance estimates for the Eastern North Pacific (ENP) stock of gray whales. The prior distributions used for these analyses incorporate revised estimates of abundance for ENP gray whales and account explicitly for the drop in abundance caused by the 1999–2000 mortality event. A series of analyses are conducted to evaluate the sensitivity of the results to different assumptions. The model fits the available data adequately, but, as in previous assessments, the measures of uncertainty associated with the survey-based abundance estimates are found to be negatively biased. The data support the inclusion of the 1999–2000 mortality event in the model, and accounting for this event leads to greater uncertainty regarding the current status of the resource. The baseline analysis estimates the ENP gray whale population to be above the maximum sustainable yield level (MSYL) with high probability (0.884). The posterior mean for the ratio of 2009 (1+) abundance to MSYL is 1.29 (with a posterior median of 1.37 and a 90% probability interval of 0.68–1.51). These results are consistent across all the model runs conducted. The baseline model also estimates the 2009 ENP gray whale population size (posterior mean of 20,366) to be at 85% of its carrying capacity (posterior mean of 25,808), and this is also consistent across all the model runs. The baseline model estimate of the maximum rate of increase, λmax, is 1.062 which, while high, is nevertheless within the range of estimates obtained for other baleen whales.

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