U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in Ecology, 78(2), 1997, pp. 535–546.


A demographic model is developed based on interbirth intervals and is applied to estimate the population growth rate of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Gulf of Maine. Fecundity rates in this model are based on the probabilities of giving birth at time t after a previous birth and on the probabilities of giving birth first at age x. Maximum likelihood methods are used to estimate these probabilities using sighting data collected for individually identified whales. Female survival rates are estimated from these same sighting data using a modified Jolly–Seber method. The youngest age at first parturition is 5 yr, the estimated mean birth interval is 2.38 yr (SE = 0.10 yr), the estimated noncalf survival rate is 0.960 (SE = 0.008), and the estimated calf survival rate is 0.875 (SE = 0.047). The population growth rate (l) is estimated to be 1.065; its standard error is estimated as 0.012 using a Monte Carlo approach, which simulated sampling from a hypothetical population of whales. The simulation is also used to investigate the bias in estimating birth intervals by previous methods. The approach developed here is applicable to studies of other populations for which individual interbirth intervals can be measured.