Nineteenth-century Ship-based Catches of Gray Whales, Eschrichtius robustus, in the Eastern North Pacific

Reeves, Randall R. and Smith, Tim D. and Lund, Judith N. and Lebo, Susan A. and Josephson , Elizabeth A. (2010) Nineteenth-century Ship-based Catches of Gray Whales, Eschrichtius robustus, in the Eastern North Pacific. Marine Fisheries Review, 72(1), pp. 26-65.

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The 19th century commercial ship-based fishery for gray whales, Eschrichtius robustus, in the eastern North Pacific began in 1846 and continued until the mid 1870’s in southern areas and the 1880’s in the north. Henderson identified three periods in the southern part of the fishery: Initial, 1846–1854; Bonanza, 1855–1865; and Declining, 1866–1874. The largest catches were made by “lagoon whaling” in or immediately outside the whale population’s main wintering areas in Mexico—Magdalena Bay, Scammon’s Lagoon, and San Ignacio Lagoon. Large catches were also made by “coastal” or “alongshore” whaling where the whalers attacked animals as they migrated along the coast. Gray whales were also hunted to a limited extent on their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas in summer. Using all available sources, we identified 657 visits by whaling vessels to the Mexican whaling grounds during the gray whale breeding and calving seasons between 1846 and 1874. We then estimated the total number of such visits in which the whalers engaged in gray whaling. We also read logbooks from a sample of known visits to estimate catch per visit and the rate at which struck animals were lost. This resulted in an overall estimate of 5,269 gray whales (SE = 223.4) landed by the ship-based fleet (including both American and foreign vessels) in the Mexican whaling grounds from 1846 to 1874. Our “best” estimate of the number of gray whales removed from the eastern North Pacific (i.e. catch plus hunting loss) lies somewhere between 6,124 and 8,021, depending on assumptions about survival of struck-but-lost whales. Our estimates can be compared to those by Henderson (1984), who estimated that 5,542–5,507 gray whales were secured and processed by ship-based whalers between 1846 and 1874; Scammon (1874), who believed the total kill over the same period (of eastern gray whales by all whalers in all areas) did not exceed 10,800; and Best (1987), who estimated the total landed catch of gray whales (eastern and western) by American ship-based whalers at 2,665 or 3,013 (method-dependent) from 1850 to 1879. Our new estimates are not high enough to resolve apparent inconsistencies between the catch history and estimates of historical abundance based on genetic variability. We suggest several lines of further research that may help resolve these inconsistencies.

Item Type: Article
Title: Nineteenth-century Ship-based Catches of Gray Whales, Eschrichtius robustus, in the Eastern North Pacific
Personal Creator/Author:
Reeves, Randall R.
Smith, Tim D.
Lund, Judith N.
Lebo, Susan A.
Josephson , Elizabeth A.
Refereed: Yes
Journal or Publication Title: Marine Fisheries Review
Volume: 72
Number: 1
Page Range: pp. 26-65
Date: 2010
ISSN: 0090-1830
Issuing Agency: United States National Marine Fisheries Service
Subjects: Conservation
Item ID: 9678
Depositing User: Patti M. Marraro
Date Deposited: 14 Aug 2012 16:33
Last Modified: 14 Aug 2012 16:33

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