Distribution and Abundance of Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) and Other Marine Mammals off the Northern Washington Coast

We examined the summer distribution of marine mammals off the northern Washington coast based on six ship transect surveys conducted between 1995 and 2002, primarily from the NOAA  ship McArthur. Additionally, small boat surveys were conducted in the same region between 1989 and 2002 to gather photographic identification data on humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) and killer whales (Orcinus orca) to examine movements and population structure. In the six years of ship survey effort, 706 sightings of 15 marine mammal species were made. Humpback whales were the most common large cetacean species and were seen every year and a total of 232 sightings of 402 animals were recorded during ship surveys. Highest numbers were observed in 2002, when there were 79 sightings of 139 whales. Line-transect estimates for humpback whales indicated that about 100 humpback whales inhabited these waters each year between 1995 and 2000; in 2002, however, the estimate was 562 (CV= 0.21) whales. A total of 191 unique individuals were identified photographically and mark-recapture estimates also indicated that the number of animals increased from under 100 to over 200 from 1995 to 2002. There was only limited interchange of humpback whales between this area and feeding areas off Oregon and California. Killer whales were also seen on every ship survey and represented all known ecotypes of the Pacific Northwest, including southern and northern residents, transients, and offshore-type killer whales. Dall’s porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli) were the most frequently sighted small cetacean; abundance was estimated at 181−291 individuals, except for 2002 when we observed dramatically higher numbers (876, CV= 0.30). Northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) and elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) were the most common pinnipeds observed. There were clear habitat differences related to distance offshore and water depth for different species.


Calambokidis, J., G.H. Steiger, D.K. Ellifrit, B.L. Troutman, and C.E. Bowlby. 2004. Distribution and Abundance of Humpback Whales and Other Marine Mammals off the Northern Washington Coast. Fisheries Bulletin 102(4): 563-580.

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