Subsistence harvest of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) by Alaskan Natives during 2018
Robert Suydam, John C. George, Brian T. Person, Raphaela Stimmelmayr, Todd L. Sformo, Leslie Pierce, Andrew VonDuyke, Leandra de Sousa, Rita Acker, Gay Sheffield, and Amy Baird
In 2018, 68 bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) were struck during the Alaskan subsistence hunt resulting in 47 animals landed. The total number of whales struck and the number landed in 2018 was higher than the averages for the previous 10 years (2008-2017: mean struck = 55.3; SD = 9.8 and mean landed = 42.6; SD = 7.2; respectively). The efficiency (# landed / # struck) of the hunt (69%) was lower than the average over the past 10 years (mean of efficiency = 77.4%; SD = 6.6%). Total mortality was estimated at 64 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 2018. In 2018, the efficiency of the spring hunt (51%) was lower than the previous 10 years (2008-2017; mean efficiency = 69%) and lower than the 2018 autumn hunt (100%). Twenty-one whales were struck and lost in 2018, including one in the northern Bering Sea during the winter. Of the other 20 whales, six were lost under the sea ice, five whales died and sank, three were harvested but had to be cut loose during towing because of unsafe conditions, five whales were lost because of equipment malfunction, and no explanation was given for why one whale was struck and lost. No whales were struck and lost during the autumn hunt. Of the harvested whales, 23 were females and 24 were males. Based on total length (>13.7 m in length), seven of the females were presumed mature. Three of the mature females were closely examined. Of those, two were pregnant, one with a term fetus (4.2m long), one with a small fetus (4.5cm long), and one female was lactating. In 2018, we collected genetic samples from 35 harvested and 9 satellite tagged and biopsied whales.