AERIAL SURVEYS FOR COASTAL DOLPHINS: ABUNDANCE OF HECTOR'S DOLPHINS OFF THE SOUTH ISLAND WEST COAST, NEW ZEALAND

Authors


Abstract

Line-transect surveys of abundance depend critically on the estimation of detection probability, which includes corrections for availability and visibility. In this aerial line-transect survey for Hector's dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori) we recorded dive times from a helicopter to estimate the proportion of time that dolphins could be seen at or near the water surface and were therefore “available” to be counted. The proportion of available sightings that were counted on transect lines was estimated by comparing sightings by two independent teams of two observers in the fixed-wing plane. The survey covered the area between Farewell Spit and Milford Sound, off the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Survey effort was stratified according to existing distribution data. A total of 142 separate sightings was made on 1,355 km of trackline. Average availability for fifty Hector's dolphin groups observed from the helicopter (161 dive/surface cycles) was 46.3% (CV = 4.2%). Data from the two independent observer teams indicated that 96.2% (CV = 2.3%) of the dolphin groups that were at the surface and on the trackline were seen. The abundance estimate for the South Island west coast, corrected for visibility and availability, was 5,388 Hector's dolphins (CV = 20.6%). The total population estimate for South Island Hector's dolphins is 7,270 (CV = 16.2%).

Ancillary