Beluga Whales: Status, Distribution, Harvest History, Historic and Current Use, Habitat Associations, Traditional Knowledge, and Abundance
Overview of research on Alaska beluga whales including distribution and abundance, habitat associations and contaminants, radio and satellite tagging, harvest history, and traditional knowledge.
The Alaska Scientific Review Group (AKSRG), the Alaska Beluga Whale Committee, the Cook Inlet Marine Mammal Council, various NOAA Fisheries offices (in particular the Alaska Regional Office, Office of Protected Resources (OPR)), and the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, and several nongovernmental organizations, all expressed concern about the high level of harvest from this small, isolated population of belugas (NOAA Fisheries, 1999, 2000). In a strongly worded statement to NOAA Fisheries and the Marine Mammal Commission, the AKSRG concluded that “the Cook Inlet beluga situation is one of the most pressing conservation issues facing Alaskan marine mammals at this time.”
The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) charges NOAA Fisheries with management and protection of belugas in Alaska. Accordingly, NOAA Fisheries initiated a formal review of the status of the Cook Inlet beluga stock on November 19, 1998 (NOAA Fisheries, 1998). This was through a cooperative process with ABWC and CIMMC. The objective of this review was to provide recommendations to NOAA Fisheries AKR and OPR regarding the classification of this stock as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act or depleted under the MMPA.
The status review coincided with workshops held by the ABWC and AKSRG in late November 1998 in Anchorage, Alaska. These workshops provided a forum for scientific presentations to interested parties, such as hunters, administrators, and researchers. To ensure that the review was comprehensive and based on the best available data, NOAA Fisheries subsequently solicited information and comments from any interested persons, groups, and organizations on the Cook Inlet beluga status. Comments were received from November 19, 1998 through January 19, 1999, followed by a public workshop held in Anchorage in March 1999. This provided a public review of relevant scientific information and an additional avenue for the public to comment on these issues.
The scientific portion of these reviews focused on the current status of Cook Inlet belugas:
- trends in abundance
- habitat use
- contaminant burdens
The effects of the Alaska Native subsistence harvest and the potential effects of other anthropogenic impacts, as well as beluga natural mortality, were also examined and are summarized in this report.
Sue E. Moore and Douglas P. Demaster. Published in Marine Fisheries Review 62(3), 2000.