Update on plans for a population survey in 2019 of Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort bowhead whales
Robert Suydam, John Craig George, Megan Ferguson, Geof Givens and Catherine Coon
The last successful bowhead whale abundance survey was conducted in 2011. In order to have a new estimate available by 2021, we are planning to conduct: (1) an ice-based census in spring 2019 (correcting the visual estimate with acoustic data from previous census efforts), and (2) an aerial line-transect survey across the US and Canada Beaufort Sea in summer 2019. The ice-based census has provided very precise estimates in the past, but the survey is more challenging and less safe than in the past because of thinner and less stable ice conditions due to climate change. Therefore, we are also attempting an aerial line-transect survey to increase our chances of having a new estimate by 2021 and to initiate a new survey technique (for bowheads) that could be implemented in the future, if other methods fail. Ideally, both surveys will be conducted in 2019, which would allow a comparison between the abundance estimates and confidence resulting from two survey approaches.