Population Ecology (2019)

DOI: 10.1002/1438-390x.12003


The narrow‐ridged finless porpoise Neophocaena asiaeorientalis is a small‐toothed whale with a coastal habitat and is sensitive to human activity. Aerial sighting surveys were conducted in 2012 to evaluate the abundance and distribution of the Sendai Bay‐Tokyo Bay population off the Pacific coast of eastern Japan. We flew along 35 east–west transects at intervals of 11.6 km over the study area between 34°57′ and 38°21’ N. In total, 25 groups were detected by two observers. The mean group size was 1.44 individuals. Porpoise abundance was estimated to be 1,491 individuals (coefficient of variation = 32.4%), which was lower than the abundance estimated in 2000 (z test, p < 0.05). A population decline trend during 2000–2012 was also detected using four available abundance estimates (Bootstrapping linear regression, p = 0.040). A possible cause of this decline was coastal habitat disturbance and deaths by tsunami waves caused by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Density was as low as 0.221 individuals/km2, which is among the lowest levels in Japanese waters. Furthermore, distributional gaps reconfirmed by the present study and past genetic studies show that the population should be divided into at least two populations: northern (“Sendai Bay‐Fukushima”) and southern. Density decline was detected in the northern population between 2000 and 2012. Unlike the earthquake, human activities may continue to affect the porpoises. Viability analyses of these small populations should be conducted in the future.