Marine Biology (2017)

DOI: 10.1007/s00227-016-3052-2


To effectively protect and manage marine mammals, contemporary information on their abundance and distribution is essential. Several factors influence present-day insight including the accessibility of the study area and the degree of difficulty in locating and studying target species. The offshore waters of the Gulf of Alaska are important habitat to a variety of cetaceans yet have remained largely unsurveyed due to its remote location, vast geographic area, and challenging environmental conditions. Between 2009 and 2015, three vessel surveys were conducted using line-transect sampling methods to estimate cetacean abundance and density. Here, we present results on the distribution for all species encountered and density and abundance for six species, including humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus), sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus), blue whales (B. musculus), killer whales (Orcinus orca), and Dall’s porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli). Fin whales, humpback whales, and Dall’s porpoise were the most abundant species. Beaked whales were documented only in 2015. Prior to this study, recent sightings of blue whales were rare, likely related to the lack of offshore survey coverage. No North Pacific right whales (Eubalaena japonica) were sighted, underscoring the critically endangered status of this species in a formerly populous habitat. Although these results provide the first estimates from offshore waters, additional effort is necessary to assess trends and to obtain baseline data for the rare and cryptic species in order to better inform conservation and management actions.