Knowing the abundance of a population is a crucial component to assess its conservation status and develop effective conservation plans. For most cetaceans, abundance estimation is difficult given their cryptic and mobile nature, especially when the population is small and has a transnational distribution. In the Baltic Sea, the number of harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) has collapsed since the mid-20th century and the Baltic Proper harbour porpoise is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN; however, its abundance remains unknown. Here, one of the largest ever passive acoustic monitoring studies was carried out by eight Baltic Sea nations to estimate the abundance of the Baltic Proper harbour porpoise for the first time. By logging porpoise echolocation signals at 298 stations during May 2011-April 2013, calibrating the loggers’ spatial detection performance at sea, and measuring the click rate of tagged individuals, we estimated an abundance of 66-1,143 individuals (95% CI, point estimate 490) during May-October within the population’s proposed management border. The small abundance estimate strongly supports that the Baltic Proper harbour porpoise is facing an extremely high risk of extinction, and highlights the need for immediate and efficient conservation actions through international cooperation. It also provides a starting point in monitoring the trend of the population abundance to evaluate the effectiveness of management measures and determine its interactions with the larger neighbouring Belt Sea population. Further, we offer evidence that design-based passive acoustic monitoring can generate reliable estimates of the abundance of rare and cryptic animal populations across large spatial scales.
Predator-prey interactions are critical to understand how communities function. However, we need to describe intraspecific variation in diet to accurately depict those interactions. Harbor seals (Phoca vitulina, Linnaeus 1758) are an abundant marine predator that prey on species of conservation concern. We estimated intrapopulation feeding diversity of harbor seals in the Salish Sea relative to sex, time, and location with a novel approach that combined molecular techniques, repeated cross-sectional sampling of scat, and a specialization metric (within-individual consistency in diet). Based on 1,083 scat samples collected from five haul-out sites during four non-sequential years, we quantified diet using metabarcoding techniques, and determined the sex of the scat depositor using a molecular assay. Results suggest that intrapopulation feeding diversity was pervasive. Specialization was high over short periods (24 - 48 hours,〖PS〗_i = 0.392, 95% CI = 0.013, R = 100,000) and variable in time and space. Females showed more specialization than males, particularly during summer and fall, and demersal and benthic prey species were correlated with more specialized diets. The latter finding suggests that this type of prey likely require specific foraging strategies and that there are trade-offs between pelagic and benthic foraging styles for harbor seals. This differential feeding on prey species, as well as between sexes of harbor seals, indicate that predator-prey interactions in harbor seals are complex and that each sex may have a different impact on species of conservation concern. As such, describing intraspecific variation in diet may unravel hitherto unknown complex predator-prey interactions in the community.