The harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) in the western North Atlantic is subject to mortality due to entanglement in gillnets. Such incidental mortality threatens a population if it is too large relative to the potential population growth rate. Critical values for incidental mortality have been established by the International Whaling Commission and the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act. As in many situations in conservation biology, use of these critical values depends on demographic calculations that are based on uncertain data. It is important to report not only estimates of demographic parameters, but also the uncertainty in those estimates. Here, we use a Monte Carlo approach to evaluate uncertainty in population size, incidental mortality, and population growth rate of harbor porpoise. To describe survival, we used model life tables derived from other mammals with similar life histories. By randomly sampling the space of model life tables and the distributions of estimated fertility and age at first reproduction, we produced a probability distribution that characterizes the uncertainty in the potential population growth rate. The median estimate for the potential annual rate of increase ? is approximately 1.10. Combining this information with the uncertainty of incidental mortality and of population size, we estimate the prob- ability that the rate of incidental mortality exceeds the critical values established by the various management agencies; this probability ranges from 0.46 to 0.94. We conclude that recent incidental mortality rates are a threat to harbor porpoise populations. The methods developed here are applicable to other situations in which demographic analyses must be based on uncertain data.
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