Probability of Detecting Harbor Porpoise From Aerial Surveys: Estimating g(0)

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Laake, J.L., J. Calambokidis, S.D. Osmek, and D.J. Rugh. 1997. Probability of detecting harbor porpoise from aerial surveys: Estimating g(0). Journal of Wildlife Management 61:63-75.


Harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), and most other cetaceans, spend a significant proportion of time submerged, and are undetectable from the air. Abundance estimates based on line transect sampling may be severely biased by assuming that all porpoise near the line are detected [g(0) = 1]. By tracking groups of harbor porpoise from land, we estimated the proportion of time harbor porpoise spent at the surface and the probability that aerial observers detected groups within 200 m of the transect line. Two teams on land, equipped with electronic theodolites, tracked harbor porpoise while surveys were conducted from an aircraft equipped with side-bubble windows and a belly window. During 7 days, 33 hours of observation were made in a high-density area for harbor porpoise near Orcas Island, Washington. We monitored 7 different harbor porpoise groups from 15 to 66 minutes each. The average proportion of time at or near the surface was 0.231 (SE = 0.032). From a selected sample of 164 land-based sightings of harbor porpoise groups, 50 (30.5%) were observed from the aircraft. For our aerial line transect surveys of harbor porpoise conducted by experienced observers, ĝ(0) = 0.292 (SE = 0.107). However, for the inexperienced observers, ĝ(0) was 0.079 (SE = 0.046), which demonstrates the importance of experience and training.


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