U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in MARINE MAMMAL SCIENCE, (2004) 20(1):63-85


We estimated humpback and blue whale abundance from 1991 to 1997 off the west coast of the US. and Mexico comparing capture-recapture models based on photographically identified animals and line-transect methods from ship-based surveys. During photo-identification research we obtained 4,2 12 identifications of 824 humpback whales and 2,403 identifications of 908 blue whales primarily through non-systematic small-boat surveys along the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington. Line-transect surveys from NOAA ships in 1991, 1993, and 1996 covered approximately 39,000 km along the coast of Baja California, California, Oregon, and Washington out to 555 km from shore. The nearshore and clumped distribution of humpback whales allowed photographic identification from small boats to cost-effectively sample a substantial portion of the population, but made it difficult to obtain effective samples in the line-transect surveys covering broad areas. The humpback capture-recapture estimates indicated humpback whale abundance increased over the six years (from 569 to 837). The broader more offshore distribution of blue whales made it harder to obtain a representative sample of identification photographs, but was well suited to the line-transect estimates. The line-transect estimates, after correction for missed animals, indicated approximately 3,000 blue whales (CV = 0.14). Capture-recapture estimates of blue whales were lower than this: approximately 2,000 when using photographs obtained from the line-transect surveys as one of the samples. Comparison of the results from the two methods provides validation, as well as insight into potential biases associated with each method.