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Subsistence harvest of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) by Alaskan Natives during 2019
Robert Suydam, John C. George, Brian T. Person, Raphaela Stimmelmayr, Todd L. Sformo, Leslie Pierce, Andrew L. Von Duyke, Leandra de Sousa, Rita Acker and Gay Sheffield
International Whaling Commission
In 2019, 36 bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) were struck during the Alaskan subsistence hunt resulting in 30 animals landed. The total number of whales struck and the number landed in 2019 was lower than the averages for the previous 10 years (2009-2018: mean struck = 57.1, SD = 10.3 and mean landed = 43.5, SD = 7.1; respectively). The efficiency no. landed / no. struck) of the hunt (83%) was higher than the average over the past 10 years (mean of efficiency = 76.7%; SD = 7.1%). Spring hunts are logistically more difficult than autumn hunts because of challenging and dynamic environmental conditions, difficulty in accessing open water, and changing sea ice thickness and dynamics. The hunting efficiency during spring is usually lower than autumn, which was the case during 2019. In 2019, the efficiency of the spring hunt (79%) was higher than the previous 10 year average (2009-2018; mean spring efficiency = 68%) but lower than the 2019 autumn hunt (100%). The efficiency of the autumn hunt over the past ten years (2009-2018) was 91% (SD = 9%). Six whales were struck and lost in 2019. Of those six whales, two whales died and sank, two whales were lost because of equipment malfunction (float pulled off whale), one whale was stuck and never seen again, and no explanation was given for why one whale was struck and lost. Of the harvested whales, 19 were females and 11 were males. Based on total length (>13.7 m in length), nine of the females were presumed mature. Three of the mature females were closely examined. Of those, two were pregnant, one with a term fetus (3.9 m long), one with a small fetus (29 cm long), and a third female was secreting colostrum. The other mature females could not be carefully examined because they were mostly butchered in the water.