Beluga whales in alaska – 03/28/2004

  • September 30, 2013 at 6:03 pm #407

    ANCHORAGE – Biologists say so many beluga whales died last year in
    Cook Inlet that Alaska Natives should forgo a subsistence hunt
    upper next summer.

    But representatives of two Cook Inlet Native whale hunting
    organizations said they have misgivings about suspending the small
    annual hunt four years after it resumed.

    Last year, scientists confirmed the deaths of 20 whales, including
    five or six suspected to have died when 46 whales were stranded in
    Turnagain Arm near Girdwood on Aug. 28.

    Under previous agreements between local Natives and the National
    Marine Fisheries Service, the harvest would be stopped if more than
    18 whales die in a season.

    Formal regulations, however, have not yet been published and made
    final, though they contain the same trigger of 18 whale deaths. As a
    result, the agency has asked Native groups to voluntarily suspend the
    hunt as part of a 2004 co-management agreement, said biologist Kaja
    Brix, chief of protected resources in Alaska. Details would be worked
    out later this spring.

    “The decision does not wholly rest in our hands,” Brix told the
    Anchorage Daily News. “We did some accounting, and we sent out a
    letter that we hit the trigger in our agreement. … We’re still
    trying to get some feedback from the parties.”

    But representatives of two Alaska Native whale hunting organizations
    question whether the agency’s biologists have taken into account a
    recent surge in gray baby belugas.

    More belugas swim in Cook Inlet’s silt-saturated waters than
    scientists may realize, said Peter Merryman, head of Cook Inlet
    Marine Mammal Council and traditional chief of the Athabascan village
    of Tyonek.

    “Every spring we see more calves,” he said. “It’s not our fault that
    they died naturally (in 2003), and why should we suffer?”

    “This is healing food,” added D.J. Blatchford, who along with her
    husband, Joel, helps organize hunters of Inupiat background in the
    Cook Inlet region. “We have a right to our heritage. It’s part of our
    life force.”

    Sorting out whether a limited harvest will take place this summer is
    only one of several difficult issues surrounding the depleted whales,
    thought to number 350 to 400 in one of the smallest genetically
    isolated cetacean populations in the world.

    A long-term harvest scheme must be submitted to a federal
    administrative law judge later this spring, while a conservation plan
    required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act is overdue. A draft of
    that plan is expected this spring,

    Marine mammal advocates and federal advisers have questioned whether
    such efforts will be enough. The environmental law firm Trustees for
    Alaska is arguing that the whales should be listed under state law
    protecting endangered species in an appeal before the state Supreme

    Complicating the picture further, federal biologists say they don’t
    know yet whether the whales have begun to recover from a mid-1990s
    population crash. The most recent estimate of 357 was released in
    January. The actual number of whales could be anywhere from 289 to
    440, about the same range reported during each of the past five years.

    Counting fast-moving whales that spend most of the time submerged in
    opaque, white-capped water can be extremely difficult. Scientists say
    it will take several more years to know whether the population is

    Once thought to number 1,300, Cook Inlet’s belugas plunged to an
    estimated 347 by 1998 in a decline federal biologists blamed on
    overhunting by Alaska Natives. Conservation groups have long argued
    that other factors such as pollution from Anchorage, discharges from
    oil platforms, seismic exploration for oil and gas deposits, shipping
    and noise should be studied too.

The forum ‘Strange Animal Deaths’ is closed to new topics and replies.