CORRECTING AERIAL SURVEY COUNTS OF HARBOR SEALS (PHOCA VITULINA RICHARDSI) IN WASHINGTON AND OREGON

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Abstract

Aerial surveys of harbor seals on land produce only a minimum assessment of the population; a correction factor to account for the missing animals is necessary to estimate total abundance. In 1991 and 1992, VHF radio tags were deployed on harbor seals (n= 124) at six sites in Washington and Oregon. During aerial surveys a correction factor to account for seals in the water was determined from the proportion of radio-tagged seals on shore during the pupping season. This proportion ranged from 0.54 to 0.74. Among the six sites there was no significant difference in the proportion of animals on shore nor was there a difference in age/sex categories of seals on shore between sites. The pooled correction factor for determining total population abundance was 1.53. An additional 32 seals were radio tagged in 1993 at one of the sites used in 1991. Comparing data from the two years, we found no interannual variation. Aerial surveys of all known harbor seal haul-out sites in Washington (n= 319) and Oregon (n= 68) were flown during the peak of the pupping season, 1991–1993. The Washington and Oregon harbor seal population was divided into two stocks based on pupping phenology, morphometics, and genetics. Mean counts for the Washington inland stock were 8,710 in 1991, 9,018 in 1992, and 10,092 in 1993. Oregon and Washington coastal stock mean counts were 18,363 in 1991, 18,556 in 1992, and 17,762 in 1993. Multiplying the annual count by the correction factor yielded estimates of harbor seal abundance in the Washington inland stock of 13,326 (95% CI = 11,637–15,259) for 1991, 13,798 (95% CI = 11,980–15,890) for 1992, and 15,440 (95% CI = 13,382–17,814) for 1993. In the Oregon and Washington coastal stock the corrected estimate of harbor seal abundance was 28,094 (95% CI = 24,697–31,960) in 1991, 28,391 (95% CI = 24,847–32,440) for 1992, and 27,175 (95% CI = 23,879–30,926) for 1993.

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