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Using opportunistic photo-identifications to detect a population decline of killer whales (Orcinus orca) in British and Irish waters

  • Suzanne Beck (a1), Andrew D. Foote (a2), Sandra Kötter (a3), Olivia Harries (a3), Laura Mandleberg (a3), Peter T. Stevick (a3), Pádraig Whooley (a4) and John W. Durban (a5)...

An assemblage of killer whales that has been sighted in waters off the west coast of the British Isles and Ireland has previously been shown to be isolated from other North Atlantic killer whale communities based on association patterns. By applying a Bayesian formulation of the Jolly–Seber mark-recapture model to the photo-identification data compiled from opportunistic photographic encounters with this population of killer whales, we show that such sparse and opportunistically-collected data can still be valuable in estimating population dynamics of small, wide-ranging groups. Good quality photo-identification data was collected from 32 encounters over 19 years. Despite a cumulative total of 77 identifications from these encounters, just ten individuals were identified and the remaining 67 identifications were re-sights of these ten animals. There was no detected recruitment through births during the study and, as a result, the population appears to be in a slight decline. The demography of the population was highly skewed towards older individuals and had an unusually high ratio of adult males, and we suggest that demographic stochasticity due to a small population size may be further impacting the population growth rate. We recommend that this population be managed as a separate conservation unit from neighbouring killer whale populations.

Corresponding author
Correspondence should be addressed to: O. Harries, Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, 28 Main Street, Tobermory, Isle of Mull, PA75 6NU, UK email:
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Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom
  • ISSN: 0025-3154
  • EISSN: 1469-7769
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-marine-biological-association-of-the-united-kingdom
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