[MARMAM] New paper on harbor porpoise in Cook Inlet, Alaska

Kim Shelden - NOAA Federal kim.shelden at noaa.gov
Thu Jun 19 12:15:37 PDT 2014

The following new paper has just been published:

Shelden, K.E.W., B.A, Agler, J.J. Brueggeman, L.A. Cornick, S.G. Speckman,
and A. Prevel-Ramos. 2014. Harbor porpoise, Phocoena phocoena vomerina, in
Cook Inlet, Alaska. Marine Fisheries Review 76(1-2):22-50.

The paper can be downloaded for free at:

   Harbor porpoise, Phocoena phocoena vomerina, in Cook Inlet, Alaska, are
managed as part of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) stock. It is not known if this
population is distinct from porpoise in the GOA stock found outside Cook
Inlet.  No long-term dedicated studies of harbor porpoise have occurred in
Cook Inlet.  The objective here is to provide a summary of occurrence in
Cook Inlet derived from archaeological data, anecdotal reports, and
systematic surveys.  Maps were created for each dataset. For 1,500 years,
Alutiiq Eskimo subsistence societies occupied lower Cook Inlet until
abandoning the region around 600 A.D. During that time, harbor porpoise
exploitation increased and eventually made up over one-third of the faunal
remains by number at midden sites. The Dena'ina and Chugach Alutiiq
continued porpoise hunting into the period of early contact in the late
1700's, after which there is no mention of continued exploitation.  Harbor
porpoise were rarely mentioned in expedition accounts collected by
naturalists in the late 1800's and early 1900's.
   Beginning in 1958, pelagic fur seal, Callorhinus ursinus, investigators
collected cetacean sightings in Alaska waters when seals were not present.
 However, none of the harbor porpoise sightings occurred in Cook Inlet.
 With the exception of one net entanglement in upper Cook Inlet in 1956,
sightings and strandings (including fisheries bycatch) were not reported in
the inlet until the mid-1970's.  Interactions with fisheries factored in a
quarter of the stranded animals recovered in Cook Inlet.
   Systematic surveys of bird and marine mammal populations increased
during the 1970's and continued sporadically to the present day.  One
dedicated harbor porpoise aerial survey conducted in August 1991 estimated
the population at 136 (CV = 63.2%), but this survey did not include the
shoreline and many of the bays throughout Cook Inlet.  An uncorrected
abundance of 249 (CV = 60.7%) in June 1998 was based on offshore sightings
obtained during beluga whale, Delphinapterus leucas, aerial surveys.  The
largest abundance estimate, 428 harbor porpoise (95% C.I. 26-830), was
obtained during vessel surveys designed to count seabirds in lower Cook
Inlet during the summer of 1993.  Harbor porpoise sighting rates, abundance
and density estimates often were limited by survey area, effort, research
platform, and study design. Therefore, each of these estimates is likely
biased downward.
   In the last decade the region has seen expansion of the Port of
Anchorage, proposals to build a bridge crossing Knik Arm, plans to
development mining operations and supporting infrastructure, hydrokinetic
energy generation proposals, oil and gas seismic exploration, and water
quality effects from urban areas.  The overall effect on harbor porpoise
within the confines of Cook Inlet cannot be fully determined until we
understand the genetic and demographic population structure of this highly
mobile and cryptic species.

Kim E.W. Shelden, M.M.A.
Marine Biologist
Cetacean Assessment and Ecology Program
National Marine Mammal Laboratory
NOAA, NMFS, Alaska Fisheries Science Center
7600 Sand Point Way N.E.
Seattle, Washington 98115-6349
(206) 526-6275 office
(206) 526-6615 fax
kim.shelden at noaa.gov

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