Use of local ecological knowledge to investigate endangered baleen whale recovery in the Falkland Islands

By SRC intern, Molly Rickles

In this study, Frans and Auge looked at baleen whale population in the Falkland Islands in the post-whaling era. Due to whaling in the early 1900s, whale populations here have decreased dramatically, but recent observations suggest that their numbers are currently increasing. However, there is a lack of population data, making this study critical.


The main goal of the research was to understand how well the baleen whale population is doing post-whaling in the Falkland Islands. To do this, the scientists used LEK, or local ecological knowledge. In this method, interviews were conducted with local Falkland residents to determine how often whales are sighted off the coast. The residents were asked to draw pictures on a map of where they saw the whales. Each interview was given a reliability rating based on how confident and detailed the account was. This data was used to supplement the existing International Whaling Committee data from the whaling era. With the combined data, the researchers aimed to look at when the whale sightings were most common and to determine the most common places where the whales were seen.

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Over the course of the study, 3,842 whale sightings were recorded and Falkland residents recorded 631 of those observations. Since LEK is not always a reliable method, it was determined that about 70% of the observations recorded using LEK were reliable, and could be used in the study. It was found that in the 1970’s, no whale sightings were recorded because it was right after the whaling era. By the early 2000’s, the number of whale sightings increased 11-fold, showing a population recovery. Out of all of the baleen whale species, sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis) showed the largest increase since the whaling era, and are currently the most abundant whale species in the Falkland Islands. It was also determined that baleen whales are most common during the summer and fall months, based on recorded sightings.


This study was an important step in understanding baleen whale populations and how they have recovered since the whaling era. Using LEK allowed the scientists to get population data even when there was a lack of empirical data, which is a new technique that hasn’t been used regularly in other studies. This new technique allowed the researchers to determine baleen whale populations in the Falkland Islands, which can be used as a reference for the future of whale conservation. This is especially critical now because of the increasing threats to whales, such as increasing economic development in the Falkland Islands. Since the whales have recovered from the whaling era, it is now important to keep the population healthy, and this study provides an important monitoring tool for future conservation efforts.

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Frans, V.F., & Auge, A. A. (2016). Use of local ecological knowledge to investigate endangered baleen whale recovery in the Falkland Islands. Biological Conservation, 202, 127-137. dio: 10.1016/j.biocon.2016.08.017

Conservation of the Critically Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals

by Laurel Zaima, RJD Intern

Education is always the first step towards the conservation and recovery of a species. The endangered species list intends to bring awareness and education to the public about species that are on the brink of extinction. There are several different classifications that explain the population status of species: least concern, near threatened, vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered, extinct in the wild, and extinct (Monachus Schauinslandi). One of the most primitive of all living phocid species, the Hawaiian Monk Seal, is categorized as critically endangered. In the mid-19th century, hunters targeted the Hawaiian Monk Seals for their precious skins and oils. The Monk Seal populations were hit so hard that they have yet to make a significant recovery. However, it is still possible for the Hawaiian Monk Seal populations to bounce back if the public is informed about the importance of conserving this species and the methods of successful conservation.

One of the reasons that hunters were capable of killing a significant amount of the Hawaiian Monk Seals in the 19th century was due to the seals’ behaviors and their small habitat range. The Hawaiian Monk Seals are an endemic species to the Hawaiian Islands, which means they are native to this chain of islands and they are found no where else on earth (Protected Resources Division).  Their small range of habitat made them an easy target for hunters. Although Monk Seals can travel hundreds of miles into the open ocean, they are not migratory mammals and have a habit of frequenting the same beaches over and over (Protected Resources Division). They also are usually found sleeping on the Hawaiian Island Beaches or in underwater caves, sometimes for days at a time (Protected Resources Division).

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