Migration timing and distance from shore of southbound eastern Pacific gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) off Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico

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Abstract

Eastern Pacific gray whales were monitored off Ensenada, Mexico, during the southbound migration. The objectives were to determine southbound migration timing and width of the migration corridor during three seasons (2003–2006). Migration timing was determined by fitting a generalized additive model to the shore counts for each season and estimating the 10, 50, and 90 percentiles of the fitted curves. To estimate abundance from shore-based counts, a probability density function for the shore based distances was estimated by a product of a gamma distribution fit to the boat survey distance data for 2006/2007 and a half-normal detection function using combined data of the three seasons. The parameters of the gamma distribution were corrected to account for less boat survey effort carried out 20–40 km than 0–20 km from shore. The onset of the migration off Ensenada was in late December/early January and ended around 13 February. The median date was 23–26 January for the first and third season and a week early for the second season. Boat surveys indicated a wide (20 km) migration corridor but most gray whales traveled within 9.9 km from shore. The estimated total number of whales during watch hours was 2,298 (95% CI = 1,536–4,447).

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