Gray whales and the value of monitoring data in implementing the U.S. Endangered Species Act

Leah R. Gerber, Douglas P. DeMaster, Peter M. Kareiva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Many scientists lament the absence of data for endangered species and argue that more funds should be spent acquiring basic information about population trends. Using 19 years of abundance estimates for the eastern North Pacific gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus), we sampled subsets of the Original survey data to identify the number of years of data required to remove the population from the U.S. Endangered Species Act's (ESA) list of endangered and threatened wildlife. For any given duration of monitoring, we selected all possible combinations of consecutive counts. To incorporate variability in growth rates, we extracted a maximum likelihood estimator of growth rate and confidence interval about that growth rate on the assumption that the population changes can be approximated by a simple diffusion process with drift. We then applied a new approach to determine ESA status for each subset of survey data and found that a quantitative decision to delist is unambiguously supported by 11 years of data but is precariously uncertain with fewer than 10 years of data. The data needed to produce an unequivocal decision to delist gray whales cost the National Marine Fisheries Service an estimated U.S. $660,000, a surprisingly modest expense given the fact that delisting can greatly simplify regulatory constraints. This example highlights the value of population monitoring in administering the ESA and provides a compelling example of the utility of such information in identifying both imperiled and recovered species. The economic value of such data is that they provide the foundation for delisting, which could ultimately save much more money than the collection of the data would ever cost.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1215-1219
Number of pages5
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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