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Whale Watching

 
 
 
 
 

Whale Population Estimates

The International Whaling Commission's most recent information on estimated abundance

On this page

Population table The IWC's figures for estimated whale populations
Comprehensive Assessment The comprehensive assessment of current whale stocks
Status of whales A brief overview of the ‘status’ of whale populations 

Estimates

Good conservation and management requires an understanding of the status of populations. A key component of this is, of course, an estimate of present abundance (and ideally trends in abundance) against which possible threats can be evaluated.

Estimating the abundance of animals that spend most of their time below the surface is difficult. The Scientific Committee has developed guidelines on how to best estimate abundance of whales from ships and aeroplanes for use in the RMP. Other methods include a combination of visual and acoustic techniques (e.g. bowhead whales off Alaska) or mark- recapture techniques using the natural marks found on some species that allow individuals to be identified (e.g. humpback whales in the North Atlantic). Because of the considerable scientific uncertainty over the numbers of whales of different species and in different geographical stocks, the International Whaling Commission decided in 1989 that it would be better not to give whale population figures except for those species/stocks which have been assessed in some detail. This does not mean that there are not other published estimates of some species or populations or areas.

The Scientific Committee is undertaking a major compilation and review of abundance estimates that is expected to be completed by 2020. Meanwhile, below is a selection of  approximate ‘best’ estimates (and their associated approximate 95 % confidence intervals) for some species and areas.


MINKE WHALES

 

Year(s) to which estimate applies

‘Best’ estimate

Approximate

95% CI

Southern Hemisphere

1985/86-1990/91

720,000

510,000 – 1,010,000

 

1992/93-2003/04

515,000

360,000  –   730,000

North Atlantic

 

 

 

      Northeastern

1989

65,000

44,000 – 95,000

 

1995

112,000

91,000 – 138,000

 

1996-2000

80,000

59,000 – 108,000

 

2003-2007

81,000

 51,000 – 128,000

 

2008-13

90,000

62,000 – 128,000

      Central

2005-2007

50,000

30,000 – 83,000

      West Greenland

2007

  9,100

4,300 – 19,000

 

2015

  5,100

2,100 – 12,000

North Pacific

     

      North West Pacific         and Okhotsk Sea

1989-90

25,000

12,800 – 48,600

 

2003

Ca 22,000+

Under review

BLUE WHALES

 

Year(s) to which estimate applies

Approximate point estimate

Approximate 95% confidence limits

Southern Hemisphere (excluding pygmy blue) 

1997/98
2,300
1,150 – 4,500

The estimated rate of increase is 8.2% (95% confidence interval 3.8-12.5%) per year between 1978/79 and 2003/04

FIN WHALES

 

Year(s) to which estimate applies

‘Best’ estimate

Approximate            95% CI

North Atlantic

 

 

 

     East Greenland to         Faroes

1987-9

14,800

11,000 – 20,000

 

1995

21,900

16,000 – 30,000

 

2001

25,800

20,000 – 33,000

 

2007

21,900

16,000 – 30,000

 

2015

40,800

28,000 – 59,000

     West Greenland

2007

16,000

4,500 – 57,000

 

2015

2,200

1,000 – 4,900

GRAY WHALES

 

Year(s) to which estimate applies

‘Best’ estimate

Approximate            95% CI

North Pacific

 

 

 

     Eastern

1997/98

21,100

18,400 – 24,200

 

2000/01

16,400

14,500 – 18,500

 

2001/02

16,000

14,000 – 18,400

 

2006/07

20,800

18,800 – 23,400

 

2007/08

17,800

16,100 – 20,000

 

2009/10

21,200

19,400 – 23,300

 

2010/11

21,000

19,200 – 22,900

 

2014/15

28,800

23,600 – 39,300

 

2015/16

27,000

24,400 – 29,900

     Pacific Coast                 Feeding Group

2007

121

 

     Western

1995

74

66 – 81

 

2015

200

187 – 211

BOWHEAD WHALES

 

Year(s) to which estimate applies

‘Best’ estimate

Approximate            95% CI

North Pacific

 

 

 

    Bering-Chukchi-           Beaufort Seas stock

2001

10,500

8,200 – 13,600

 

2004

12,600

7,800 – 20,400

 

2011

16,800

15,200 – 18,700

    Okhotsk Sea

2016

218

142 –  348

North Atlantic

     

     West Greenland             feeding area

2012

1,300

900 – 1,600

    East Canada - West      Greenland

2013

6,400

3,700 – 11,200

    Svalbard

2015

340

100  – 900

The net rate of increase of the BCB stock since 1978 has been estimated as about 3.2% per year (95% confidence interval 1.4% - 5.1%).
 

HUMPBACK WHALES

 

Year(s) to which estimate applies

‘Best’ estimate

Approximate            95% CI

Southern Hemisphere

     

     Partial coverage of      Antarctic feeding          grounds

1997/98

42,000

34,000 – 52,000

     Eastern South               America

2005

6,200

4,600 – 8,500

 

Rate of increase of around 7%

     Western South               America

2003-4

2,900

2,000 – 4,200

     Western Australian

2008

29,000

24,000 – 40,000

 

Rate of increase of around 10% 1999-2008

     Western Africa

2005

9,800

7,000 – 12,000

 

Rate of increase of around 4-5%

     Eastern Africa                 breeding stock(s)

2006

14,000

11,000 – 19,000

North Atlantic

 

 

 

     Western North               Atlantic

1993

11,600

10,000 – 13,500

     Iceland / Faroe               Islands

2007

18,000

7,000 – 46,000

 

2015

10,000

4,900 – 20,300

    East Greenland

2015

4,200

1,800 – 9,700 

     West Greenland

2007

2,700

1,400 – 5,300

 

2015

1,000

400 – 2,300

 

Rate of increase of around 9% 1984-2007

North Pacific

2007

22,000

19,000 – 23,000

Arabian Sea

2007

80

60 – 110

RIGHT WHALES

 

Year(s) to which estimate applies

‘Best’ estimate

Approximate            95% CI

Southern Hemisphere

2009

12,000

 

Southwest Atlantic

2009

3,300

 

 

Rate of increase around 7%

Southern Africa

2009

3,900

 

 

Rate of increase around 7%

Sub-Antarctic New Zealand

2009

2,700

 

South central and Western Australia

2009

2,000

 

 

Rate of increase around 7%

North Atlantic

2010

490

 

SEI WHALES

 

Year(s) to which estimate applies

‘Best’ estimate

Approximate            95% CI

North Pacific

 

 

 

     Eastern tropical

2010-2012

29,600

18,500 - 47,300

BRYDE’S WHALES

 

Year(s) to which estimate applies

‘Best’ estimate

Approximate            95% CI

North Pacific

 

 

 

     Western

1988-1996

32,200

19,000 – 55,000

 

1998-2002

32,200

15,000 – 66,000

 

2008-2015

41,000

24,000 – 68,000

Pilot Whales

 

Year(s) to which estimate applies

Approximate point estimate

Approximate 95% confidence limits

Central & Eastern North Atlantic

 

              1989

780,000

 430,000 – 1,390,000

Beluga (White whales)

 

Year(s) to which estimate applies

Approximate point estimate

Approximate 95% confidence limits

North Pacific

 

 

 

     Okhotsk Sea

2010      

~12,000

 

     Eastern Chukchi             Sea (part of)

2017      

13,300

5,100 – 34,300

Harbour porpoises

 

Year(s) to which estimate applies

Approximate point estimate

Approximate 95% confidence limits

North Atlantic

     Western Baltic, Belt                    Sea & Kattegat

 

2012

40,000

25,000 – 65,000

Hector's Dolphins

 

Year(s) to which estimate applies

Approximate point estimate

Approximate 95% confidence limits

South Island, New Zealand

 

            2016

       14,800

 11,900 – 18,500

Maui Dolphins

 

Year(s) to which estimate applies

Approximate point estimate

Approximate 95% confidence limits

North Island, New Zealand

 

           2016

        57

 48  –  71

 

 
 

COMPREHENSIVE ASSESSMENT

When, at its 1982 meeting, the IWC agreed to a pause in commercial whaling (or to use popular terminology, a 'moratorium') from 1986, the amendment to the regulations included a clause that 'the Commission will undertake a 'comprehensive assessment' of the effects of this decision on whale stocks and consider modification of this provision and the establishment of other catch limits'.

The term 'Comprehensive Assessment' had not been defined by the Commission and eventually the Scientific Committee defined it to be:

'an in-depth evaluation of the status of all whale stocks in the light of management objectives and procedures... that ... would include the examination of current stock size, recent population trends, carrying capacity and productivity'.

To date the Committee has completed or is still undertaking such in-depth analyses of:

  • Antarctic minke whales - Southern Hemisphere;
  • Common minke whales - North Atlantic; western North Pacific
  • Fin whales - North Atlantic
  • Humpback whales - Southern Hemisphere and North Atlantic
  • Bryde's whales - western North Pacific
  • Bowhead whales - Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort Seas
  • Blue whales – Southern Hemisphere
  • Sei whales – North Pacific