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Keywords:

  • trend in abundance;
  • endangered species;
  • line transect;
  • acoustic trackline detection probability;
  • conservation;
  • Phocoena sinus;
  • vaquita abundance

Abstract

A line-transect survey for the critically endangered vaquita, Phocoena sinus, was carried out in October–November 2008, in the northern Gulf of California, Mexico. Areas with deeper water were sampled visually from a large research vessel, while shallow water areas were covered by a sailboat towing an acoustic array. Total vaquita abundance in 2008 was estimated to be 245 animals (CV = 73%, 95% CI 68–884). The 2008 estimate was 57% lower than the 1997 estimate, an average rate of decline of 7.6%/yr. Bayesian analyses found an 89% probability of decline in total population size during the 11 yr period, and a 100% probability of decline in the central part of the range. Acoustic detections were assumed to represent porpoises with an average group size of 1.9, the same as visual sightings. Based on simultaneous visual and acoustic data in a calibration area, the probability of detecting vaquitas acoustically on the trackline was estimated to be 0.41 (CV = 108%). The Refuge Area for the Protection of the Vaquita, where gill net fishing is currently banned, contained approximately 50% of the population. While animals move in and out of the Refuge Area, on average half of the population remains exposed to bycatch in artisanal gill nets.