Aerial survey as a tool to estimate whale shark abundance trends

David Rowat, Mauvis Gore, Mark G. Meekan, Ivan R. Lawler, Corey J.A. Bradshaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)


Aerial surveys have been used to estimate population abundance of both terrestrial and marine species; in the marine environment this has largely been used for air-breathing species that spend time regularly at the surface. Whale sharks spend a large proportion of their time close to the surface and so are amenable to aerial survey techniques. This study presents the results of six years of synoptic aerial belt-surveys done nearly daily during the peak whale shark season around the island of Mahe, Seychelles. A total of 580 survey flights were flown providing 699.7 hours of survey record. A seasonal peak of shark sightings per hour was recorded in September or October in most years with the maximum on a single survey of 28.4 h - 1 in October 2006. The aerial survey data were used to generate an estimate of relative population abundance indicating that highest mean annual relative population estimate was also in 2006, with an estimate of 38, while the lowest mean estimate was 11 in 2004. These estimates were then compared to weekly capture-mark-recapture estimates of abundance based on unique individual identification data. The results indicate that the use of aerial survey data alone may give an acceptable indication of instantaneous relative population abundance but further refinement is necessary to estimate absolute regional abundance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Aerial survey
  • Catch-mark-recapture
  • Population estimation
  • Rhincodon typus
  • Whale shark


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