[MARMAM] New publication: Right whale demography and forecasting

Erin Meyer-Gutbrod eringutbrod at gmail.com
Tue Oct 31 14:41:31 PDT 2017

Dear MARMAM subscribers,

We are pleased to announce the publication of the following paper in
Global Change Biology:

Meyer-Gutbrod EL, Greene CH. Uncertain recovery of the North Atlantic
right whale in a changing ocean. Glob Change Biol. 2017;00:1–10.
https:// doi.org/10.1111/gcb.13929


Human activities have placed populations of many endangered species at
risk and mitigation efforts typically focus on reducing anthropogenic
sources of mortality. However, failing to recognize the additional
role of environmental factors in regulating birth and mortality rates
can lead to erroneous demographic analyses and conclusions. The North
Atlantic right whale population is currently the focus of conservation
efforts aimed at reducing mortality rates associated with ship strikes
and entanglement in fishing gear. Consistent monitoring of the
population since 1980 has revealed evidence that climate-associated
changes in prey availability have played an important role in the
population’s recovery. The considerable interdecadal differences
observed in population growth coincide with remote Arctic and North
Atlantic oceanographic processes that link to the Gulf of Maine
ecosystem. Here, we build capture-recapture models to quantify the
role of prey availability on right whale demographic transitional
probabilities and use a corresponding demographic model to project
population growth rates into the next century. Contrary to previous
predictions, the right whale population is projected to recover in the
future as long as prey availability and mortality rates remain within
the ranges observed during 1980–2012. However, recent events indicate
a northward range shift in right whale prey, potentially resulting in
decreased prey availability and/or an expansion of right whale habitat
into unprotected waters. An annual increase in the number of whale
deaths comparable to that observed during the summer 2017 mass
mortality event may cause a decline to extinction even under
conditions of normal prey availability. This study highlights the
importance of understanding the oceanographic context for observed
population changes when evaluating the efficacy of conservation
management plans for endangered marine species.

Erin Meyer-Gutbrod

Erin Meyer-Gutbrod, Ph.D.

Marine Science Institute; Rm 3405
University of California, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-6150

eringutbrod at gmail.com

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