WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 (Xinhua) -- Scientists have increased the estimate of the number of humpback whales in the North Pacific Ocean, according to a paper published Tuesday in the Marine Mammal Science journal.
The increase follows a refined statistical analysis of data compiled in 2008 from the largest whale survey ever carried out to appraise humpback whale populations throughout the North Pacific.
The number of North Pacific humpback whales in the 2008 study, known as the Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance and Status of Humpbacks, or SPLASH, was estimated at just under 20,000 based on a preliminary look at the data.
The latest research indicates the population to be over 21,000 and possibly even higher -- a significant improvement to the scant 1,400 humpback whales estimated in the North Pacific Ocean at the end of commercial whaling in 1966.
"These improved numbers are encouraging, especially after we have reduced most of the biases inherent in any statistical model," said Jay Barlow, marine mammal biologist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
"We feel the numbers may even be larger since there have been across-the-board increases in known population areas and unknown areas have probably seen the same increases," Barlow added.
The SPLASH research was a three-year project started in 2004 involving NOAA scientists and hundreds of other researchers from the United States, Japan, Russia and some other countries.
It was the first systematic survey ever attempted to determine the humpback whales' overall population, structure and genetic makeup in the North Pacific.