Traditional Knowledge and Historical and Opportunistic Sightings of Beluga Whales in Yakutat Bay, Alaska, 1938–2013

July 01, 2015

A study of beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) sightings and knowledge in Yakutat Bay, Alaska.

A total of 76 confirmed sighting events of beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) were gathered from 1938 to 2013 in Yakutat Bay, Alaska. The sightings were a mix of incidental observations from airplane pilots and commercial fishermen as well as directed ground and aerial surveys. The earliest sightings are anecdotal, with the first known observation recalled from the summer of 1938. Throughout the observation period, the average group sighting was six whales with a low of one animal and an estimated high of 26 animals. Overall, there is little traditional or historical knowledge about the Yakutat Bay belugas, including whether they were a hunted species. However, the study revealed the existence of the local name for belugas “Kuyeedaayee,” meaning skin under the stars, which was either of Tlingit origin or possibly from the now extinct Eyak language. The fact that there is a Tlingit or Eyak name for the animals supports the theory and the genetic evidence that they have inhabited Yakutat Bay for longer than the sighting record indicates. This report includes four summaries of observations from local residents who are most knowledgeable about Yakutat Bay.

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W.G. Lucey, E. Henniger, E. Abraham, G. O'Corry-Crowe, K.M. Stafford, and M. Castellote. Published in Marine Fisheries Review. dx.doi.org/10.7755/MFR.77.1.4

Last updated by Alaska Regional Office on 03/05/2019

Beluga Whale