Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Detection of sea otters in boat-based surveys of Prince William Sound, Alaska

January 1, 1995

Boat-based surveys have been commonly used to monitor sea otter populations, but there has been little quantitative work to evaluate detection biases that may affect these surveys. We used ground-based observers to investigate sea otter detection probabilities in a boat-based survey of Prince William Sound, Alaska. We estimated that 30% of the otters present on surveyed transects were not detected by boat crews. Approximately half (53%) of the undetected otters were missed because the otters left the transects, apparently in response to the approaching boat. Unbiased estimates of detection probabilities will be required for obtaining unbiased population estimates from boat-based surveys of sea otters. Therefore, boat-based surveys should include methods to estimate sea otter detection probabilities under the conditions specific to each survey. Unbiased estimation of detection probabilities with ground-based observers requires either that the ground crews detect all of the otters in observed subunits, or that there are no errors in determining which crews saw each detected otter. Ground-based observer methods may be appropriate in areas where nearly all of the sea otter habitat is potentially visible from ground-based vantage points.

Related Content