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Estimating Pacific walrus abundance and survival with multievent mark-recapture models

September 22, 2022

Arctic marine ecosystems are undergoing rapid physical and biological change associated with climate warming and loss of sea ice. Sea ice loss will impact many species through altered spatial and temporal availability of resources. In the Bering and Chukchi Seas, the Pacific walrus Odobenus rosmarus divergens is one species that could be impacted by rapid environmental change, and thus, population assessments are needed to monitor changes in the status of this ecologically and culturally important marine mammal. We conducted a 5 yr genetic mark-recapture study to estimate demographic parameters for the Pacific walrus. We developed a Bayesian multievent mark-recapture model to estimate walrus survival and abundance while accounting for age misclassification. We estimated the probability of juvenile annual survival as 0.63 (95% credible interval [CrI]: 0.39-0.87) and adult female annual survival as 0.90 (95% CrI: 0.74-1.00). We estimated total abundance as 257 193 (95% CrI: 171 138-366 366). We provide the first estimate of total Pacific walrus abundance since an aerial survey in 2006, which generated a substantially less precise total population size estimate (129 000; 95% CI: 55 000-507 000). The emerging ecosystem state in the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas will likely result in a decline in Pacific walrus abundance, but there is substantial uncertainty regarding the magnitude of the anticipated decline. Our demographic estimates provide critical information to evaluate future population trends of this subsistence resource vital to communities that border the Bering and Chukchi Seas in the USA and Russia.

Publication Year 2022
Title Estimating Pacific walrus abundance and survival with multievent mark-recapture models
DOI 10.3354/meps14131
Authors William S. Beatty, Patrick R. Lemons, Jason P. Everett, Cara J. Lewis, Rebecca L. Taylor, Robert J. Lynn, Suresh A. Sethi, Lori T. Quakenbush, John J. Citta, Michelle Kissling, Natalia Kryukova, John K. Wennburg
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Marine Ecology Progress Series
Index ID 70237004
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center; New York Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit; Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center