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Subsistence harvest of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) by Alaskan Natives during 2017

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Robert Suydam, John C. George, Brian Person, Raphaela Stimmelmayr, Todd Sformo, Leslie Pierce, Andrew VonDuyke, Leandra de Sousa, and Gay Sheffield

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International Whaling Commission


In 2017, 57 bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) were struck during the Alaskan subsistence hunt resulting in 50 animals landed. The total number of whales landed in 2017 was higher than the average for the previous 10 years (2007-2016: mean of landed =41.7; SD =6.7) while the average number struck was similar (2007-2016: mean struck =55.9; SD =10.1). The efficiency (# landed / # struck) of the hunt (88%) was also higher than the average over the past 10 years (mean of efficiency = 75.2%; SD =6.5%) and was one of the highest ever recorded. Total mortality was estimated at 55 animals after the fate of the struck and lost whales was considered. 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 in 2017. In 2017, the efficiency of the spring hunt was lower (81%) than the autumn hunt (100%). Of the seven whales struck and lost during the spring, three were lost under the sea ice, a fourth whale sank, and harpoons pulled out of two animals. No whales were struck and lost during the autumn hunt. Of the harvested whales, 28 were females and 22 were males. Based on total length (>13.4 m in length), 13 of the females were presumed mature. Six of the mature females were examined. Of those, two were pregnant, one with a mid- and another with a term fetus, and one female was lactating.

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