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This paper presents a rich, complex dataset including 25 years of aerial line transect surveys for bowhead whales in the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, for which a distance detection function was estimated. The analysis was limited to the autumn migratory period and to the portions of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas occupied by bowhead whales during this period. The primary purpose of the work was to improve the understanding of what factors significantly affect detection. Comprehensive model selection efforts based on the AIC identified useful predictors. Results showed that Beaufort Sea state, ocean depth, inter-sighting waiting distance and year were among the factors affecting detections. For example, increased depth and long wait distances between sightings were both associated with narrower effective strip widths. Some of the results can be interpreted as evidence for a relationship between detection probabilities and whale behaviour. The complexity of the overall dataset required substantial data organisation and offered many alternative analysis approaches, but the results were fairly consistent across such choices. Notwithstanding successful estimation of the detection function, the data present substantial challenges to standard abundance estimation using line transect methods.
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