Abstract The conservation of long-lived species requires extensive, in-depth knowledge of their population structure and vital rates. In this paper we examine the structure of the Mediterranean fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) population based on the available mortality figures from European stranding network databases compiled over the past 22 years. Such data has enabled us to lay out a first life-history (mortality) table of the population using a simple age-structured demographic model with three life-tables: calf, immature and mature. Our results reveal a high mortality rate in the first stage of life (77% per year), which decreases during the immature stage and falls further during the mature adult stage. In addition, we have calculated the corresponding life expectancies at birth (e0), at entry in the immature stage (e1) and at maturity (e2) under different hypotheses on survival at the maximum age of 90 years (s90) ranging between 0.1 and 3% of newborns still alive. The life expectancy at birth (e0) at the lower bound of the chosen range (s90 = 0.001) is about 6 years, entry in the immature stage (e1) is 8.2 years, and entry in the mature stage (e2) is about 15.6 years. This large increase is the consequence of the higher mortality in the first two stages compared with the mature one. The life expectancies are 10.1, 14.3, and 37.8 years for s90 at the upper bound of the chosen range (s90 = 0.03). The resulting population intrinsic growth rates (r) ranged between -1.3. and +1.7 per year. High juvenile mortality patterns imply that the stationary reproductive value (the number of female offspring produced by each female after a given age x) at the start of maturity reaches a value about seven times higher than at birth. Only optimistically high survival patterns of older individuals would allow positive intrinsic growth rates, thereby enhancing the chances of the population survival.
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