In the News: Scientists raise estimate of humpback whale numbers
Scientists have increased their estimate of the number of humpback whales in the North Pacific Ocean, according to a report published in the journal Marine Mammal Science. The revised estimate follows analysis of data compiled in 2008 as part of the largest survey ever undertaken to assess humpback whale populations in the North Pacific.
The original study, known as the 'Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance and Status of Humpbacks' (SPLASH), was a three-year project involving scientists from a number of different countries. The project used photographs to determine whale numbers, relying on the unique fluke patterns of the whales to identify individuals.
By matching photos from the species' northern feeding grounds around the Pacific Rim with photographs of the same individuals in the warm tropical waters of their southern feeding grounds, the scientists were able to produce an estimate of the overall humpback whale population.
The 2008 study originally estimated humpback whale numbers in the North Pacific at just under 20,000 individuals, based on a preliminary examination of the data. However, the new report indicates the population to be over 21,000, or possibly even higher.
According to Dr Jay Barlow, a researcher at the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California, "These improved numbers are encouraging... We feel the numbers may even be larger since there have been across-the-board increases in known population areas and unknown areas have probably seen the same increases."