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National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML)

Cetacean Assessment & Ecology Program

Bowhead Whale Workshop

On 23-24 February 2005, a Workshop on Bowhead Whale Stock Structure Studies in the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort Seas in 2005-2006 was held at the AFSC. The workshop was convened by Sue Moore (AFSC) and J. Craig George (North Slope Borough). Thirty-two scientists from the United States, Russia, Norway, and Japan attended the workshop, including Doug DeMaster (AFSC Science Director) and Irina Benson (interpreter) and Dave Rugh, Kim Shelden, John Brandon, Paul Wade, Jeff Breiwick, Julie Mocklin, and Marcia Muto (Rapporteur) from the NMML Cetacean Assessment and Ecology Program.

The intention of the workshop was to provide an opportunity for open discussion of research approaches to investigate possible sub-stock structure in the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort (BCB) population of bowhead whales, which inhabits waters around Alaska and is currently thought to consist of only one stock. Many papers on bowhead whale stock structure were presented at the 2004 International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee (IWC SC) meeting, from which a team of 12 U.S. researchers developed a provisional five-part plan for studying the stock structure of BCB bowhead whales. This provisional plan underwent review at the workshop, where participants discussed the applicability of techniques such as increased tissue sampling during the harvests, biopsies, development of additional genetic markers, photo-identification, satellite tagging, isotopic analysis of baleen, acoustic detection, and statistical modeling.

A summary report describing the workshop and revisions to the study plan was prepared, circulated to participants, and will be submitted as a "For Information" document to the Bowhead-Right-Gray (BRG) Subcommittee at the 2005 IWC SC meeting in Ulsan, Republic of Korea, 30 May to 10 June 2005.

By Marcia Muto, Dave Rugh, and Sue Moore

Minerals Management Service Meetings

The tenth Information Transfer Meeting for the Minerals Management Service’s (MMS) Alaska Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Program was held in Anchorage, AK, 14-16 March 2005. NMML was represented by Dave Rugh, from the Cetacean Assessment and Ecology Program, and Peter Boveng, from the Polar Ecosystems Program. Rugh presented information on photographic identification of bowhead whales, a process that has been employed for most of the past two decades. The MMS is supplying some funds to assist in the analysis of photographs collected in 2003 and 2004 near Point Barrow during the whales’ spring migration. Boveng presented results from studies of harbor seals in Cook Inlet, particularly in regard to abundance, distribution, and habitat use. This study has been funded by the MMS since 2003.

The MMS also had an information update meeting in Barrow, Alaska, on 18 March 2005. The intent was to provide local natives with better access to results of research pertaining to the North Slope Borough. Eleven scientific reports were presented, including the bowhead photographic work presented by Dave Rugh.

By Dave Rugh and Peter Boveng


Polar Ecosystems Program

Research Planning for Co-management of Seals in Alaska

Members of the Polar Ecosystems Program participated in two meetings with Alaska Native organizations to plan research and other activities in support of co-management of seals as subsistence resources. The first meeting, in Anchorage during January, was convened by the Ice Seal Committee, an organization representing subsistence hunters from five Alaska Native regional organizations: North Slope Borough, Maniilaq, Kawerak, and Bristol Bay Native Associations, and the Association of Village Council Presidents. Other participants included researchers from the NMFS Alaska Regional Office (AKR), the ADF&G, and the University of Alaska Southeast. A draft research plan for arctic ice seals (bearded, spotted, ringed, and ribbon seals) was developed to identify and coordinate the research priorities of these organizations.

The plan, which is to be refined and updated annually, identified approximately $1.9M of research critical funding for 1) defining the identity and status of ice seal populations, 2) conducting comprehensive assessment of ice seal mortality including harvest, and 3) understanding the impact of industrial and climatological events on ice seal habitat and ecology. Only a small portion of this research is currently funded.

In March, a meeting of the Alaska Harbor Seal Co-management Committee was held in Juneau. This group is composed of three representatives from NMFS (two from AKR and one from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center), and three from the Alaska Native Harbor Seal Commission. An important agenda item for the meeting was consideration of steps to be taken following the independent scientific review of NMFS research on harbor seal population structure that was held in October, 2004 (AFSC Quarterly Report Oct-Nov-Dec 2004). A plan was developed for incorporating information relevant to improved definitions of harbor seal stocks (abundance, distribution, trends, genetic structure, subsistence harvest rates and zones, commercial fishing areas, etc.) into a GIS (geographic information systems) to support a joint discussion of possible revised stock boundaries.

By Peter Boveng

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