PHOTOGRAPHIC IDENTIFICATION OF NORTHERN BOTTLENOSE WHALES (HYPEROODON AMPULLATUS): SOURCES OF HETEROGENEITY FROM NATURAL MARKS

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Abstract

The use of natural marks in capture-recapture studies can lead to unequal capture probabilities. This paper examined a catalog of northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus) photographs from the Gully, Nova Scotia, to identify potential sources of heterogeneity. This information can be used to select appropriate individuals and photographs to include in analyses. Individual northern bottlenose whales were sufficiently marked to uniquely identify individuals (x̄= 14.5 marks/individual; range 1-67), but not all mark types persisted over time. Reliable marks were defined as mark types that were not lost over the nine-yeat study period (notches, back indentation, and mottled patches). Individuals were considered reliably marked if they possessed at least one back indentation or mottled patch (located within one dorsal fin width, at the base of the dorsal fin) or a notch on the dorsal fin. Sixty-six percent (SE = 5%) of the population were reliably marked. Longterm analyses (months to years) should use only reliably marked individuals, and the results scaled to account for the rest of the population. Our results also showed that photographic quality affected an observer's ability to identify individuals. For this catalog, quantitative analysis indicated only photographs of Q ≥ 4 (on a 6-point scale with 6 representing the highest quality) should be included in mark-recapture analyses sensitive to heterogeneity.

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