Harvest History of Belugas in Cook Inlet, Alaska
This paper reviews and describes beluga use and harvest levels in the Cook Inlet region from prehistory to the present.
Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) in Cook Inlet, Alaska represent a unique and isolated marine mammal population that has been hunted for a variety of purposes since prehistoric times. Archeological studies have shown that both Alutiiq Eskimos and Dena’ina Athabaskan Indians have long utilized many marine resources in Cook Inlet, including belugas. Over the past century, commercial whaling and sport hunting also occurred periodically in Cook Inlet prior to the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. During the 1990s, the hunting mortality by Alaska Natives apparently increased to 40–70 whales per year, which led to the decline of this stock and its subsequent designation in 2000 as depleted under the MMPA. Concerns about the decline of the Cook Inlet stock resulted in a voluntary suspension of the subsistence hunt by Alaska Natives in 1999.
The difficulty in obtaining accurate estimates for the harvest of these whales is due to the inability to identify all of the hunters and in turn, the size of the harvest. Attempts to reconstruct harvest records based on hunters' recollections and interviews from only a few households have been subject to a wide degree of speculation. To adequately monitor the beluga harvest, NOAA Fisheries established marking and reporting regulations in October 1999. These rules require that Alaska Natives who hunt belugas in Cook Inlet must collect the lower left jaw from harvested whales and complete a report that includes date and time of the harvest, coloration of the whale, harvest location, and method of harvest. The MMPA was amended in 2000 to require a cooperative agreement between NOAA Fisheries and Alaska Native organizations before hunting could be resumed.
Barbara A. Mahoney and Kim E. W. Shelden. Published in Marine Fisheries Review 62(3), 2000.