Marine Biology

, Volume 157, Issue 7, pp 1591–1604 | Cite as

Photographic mark-recapture analysis of clustered mammal-eating killer whales around the Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska

  • J. Durban
  • D. Ellifrit
  • M. Dahlheim
  • J. Waite
  • C. Matkin
  • L. Barrett-Lennard
  • G. Ellis
  • R. Pitman
  • R. LeDuc
  • P. Wade
Original Paper


We used photographic mark-recapture methods to estimate the number of mammal-eating “transient” killer whales using the coastal waters from the central Gulf of Alaska to the central Aleutian Islands, around breeding rookeries of endangered Steller sea lions. We identified 154 individual killer whales from 6,489 photographs collected between July 2001 and August 2003. A Bayesian mixture model estimated seven distinct clusters (95% probability interval = 7–10) of individuals that were differentially covered by 14 boat-based surveys exhibiting varying degrees of association in space and time. Markov Chain Monte Carlo methods were used to sample identification probabilities across the distribution of clusters to estimate a total of 345 identified and undetected whales (95% probability interval = 255–487). Estimates of covariance between surveys, in terms of their coverage of these clusters, indicated spatial population structure and seasonal movements from these near-shore waters, suggesting spatial and temporal variation in the predation pressure on coastal marine mammals.


Markov Chain Monte Carlo Killer Whale Probability Interval Aleutian Island Gray Whale 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We are grateful to many scientists and crew who participated in the survey efforts. Sue Moore and Caroline Gudmundson contributed killer whale photographs, and Alex Zerbini helped with the design of the line-transect surveys. Brian Fadely, Devin Johnson and Nancy Friday provided comments on earlier drafts, and editorial suggestions were made by Gary Duker and James Lee. JWD was supported by a postdoctoral research associateship from the National Research Council and field efforts were supported by NOAA’s Steller Sea Lion Research Initiative, with specific funding from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, the North Pacific Universities Marine Mammal Research Consortium and the Alaska SeaLife Center. Research was conducted under permits 545-1488-03, 782-1510 or 932-1489-05 issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service.


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Copyright information

© US Government 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Durban
    • 1
  • D. Ellifrit
    • 3
  • M. Dahlheim
    • 1
  • J. Waite
    • 1
  • C. Matkin
    • 2
  • L. Barrett-Lennard
    • 4
  • G. Ellis
    • 5
  • R. Pitman
    • 6
  • R. LeDuc
    • 6
  • P. Wade
    • 1
  1. 1.National Marine Mammal Laboratory, Alaska Fisheries Science CenterNational Marine Fisheries ServiceSeattleUSA
  2. 2.North Gulf Oceanic SocietyHomerUSA
  3. 3.Center for Whale ResearchFriday HarborUSA
  4. 4.Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science CenterVancouverCanada
  5. 5.Pacific Biological StationFisheries and Oceans CanadaNanaimoCanada
  6. 6.Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAALa JollaUSA

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