Seabirds At-Sea Surveys: The Line-Transect Method Outperforms the Point-Transect Alternative

François Bolduc1, *, David A. Fifield2
1 Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Québec, QC, Canada
2 Science and Technology Branch, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Newfoudland, Canada

© 2017 Bolduc and Fifield.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment and Climate Change Canada, 801-1550 avenue d’Estimauville, Québec, QC, G1J 0C3, Canada; Tel: 418-640-2910; E-mail:



Knowledge of seasonal distribution and abundance of species is paramount in identifying key areas. Field data collection and analysis must provide best information concerning seabirds at-sea to optimize conservation efforts.


We tested whether modeling of detection probabilities, and density estimates with their coefficients of variation obtained from the point-transect method provided more robust and precise results than the more commonly used line-transect method. We subdivided our data by species groups (alcids, and aerialist species), and into two behavior categories (flying vs. swimming). We also computed density estimates from the strip-transect and point count methods, to relate differences between transect methods to their counterparts that do not consider a decreasing probability of detection with distance from the observer. We used data collected in the Gulf of St. Lawrence between 2009 and 2010 when observers simultaneously conducted line- and point-transect sampling.


Models of detection probability using the line-transect method had a good fit to the observed data, whereas detection probability histograms of point-transect analyses suggested substantial evasive movements within the 0-50 m interval. This resulted in point-transect detection probability models displaying poor goodness of fit. Line transects yielded density estimates 1.2-2.6 times higher than those obtained using the point-transect method. Differences in percent coefficients of variation between line-transect and point-transect density estimates ranged between 0.2 and 5.9.


Using 300 m wide line-transects provided the best results, while other methods could lead to biased conclusions regarding species density in the local landscape and the relative composition of seabird communities among species and behavior groups.

Keywords: Seabirds at-sea, Distance sampling, Protocol, Precision, Seasonal distribution.