Estimates of large whale abundance in West Greenland waters from an aerial survey in 2005

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M. P. Heide-Jørgensen
D. L. Borchers
L. Witting
K. L. Laidre
M. J. Simon
A. Rosing-Asvid
D. G. Pike


An aerial line transect and cue counting survey of large whales in West Greenland was conducted in August and September 2005. The survey covered the area between Cape Farewell and Disko Island on the West Greenland coast out to the 200m depth contour. The surveyed area covered 163,574km2 and a total of 246 sightings of 9 cetacean species were obtained. Abundance estimates were developed for humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae (21 sightings), fin whales, Balaenoptera physalus (78 sightings) and common minke whales, B. acutorostrata (42 sightings). The mean group size of humpback whales was 3.30 but groups as large as 95 animals were seen off effort. The mean group size of fin whales was 2.96 with groups as large as 50 seen. Common minke whale group size was 1.1 with only one sighting of a group of two whales. Humpback whales were found both in offshore and coastal areas of West Greenland with the exception of Store Hellefiske Bank and the Cape Farewell offshore area. The line transect abundance estimate of humpback whales was 1,218 (CV=0.56), uncorrected for submerged whales (availability bias) and whales that were available to be seen but were missed by the observers (perception bias). Fin whales were observed in all areas of the survey and the uncorrected line transect estimate was 1,660 (CV=0.38). When corrected for perception bias the estimates increases to 3,234 fin whales (CV=0.44). Common minke whales were found in almost equal densities in all strata except for the Cape Farewell offshore area, where none were seen. The cue-counting abundance estimate of common minke whales was 4,856 (CV=0.49) for West Greenland using a cue rate of 46.3 cues per hour (CV=0.11). If the estimate is corrected for perception bias the common minke whale abundance is estimated to be 10,792 whales (CV=0.59). Low coverage was attained in the northern area of West Greenland and this should cause an especially large negative bias for the estimates of fin whale and humpback whale abundance because this area is believed to have particularly large densities of these whales.

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