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Cetacean Assessment & Ecology Program

Kachemak Bay Science Conference

Studies of beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) in Cook Inlet, Alaska, were described at an ambitious scientific conference focused on Kachemak Bay, Alaska. The conference, attended by over 100 citizens interested in the local environment, was held in Homer, Alaska, on 24-25 March 2006. Topics presented at the conference included monitoring oceanographic conditions, restoration of seagrass resources, stream turbidity reduction, seabird trends, shellfish declines, sea otter mortality, harbor seal abundance and movements, photo-cataloging humpback whales, the role of benthic microalgae, community composition of intertidal clams, impacts from natural and human predators, kelp chemical defenses, coastal habitat mapping, monitoring of nearshore habitats, climate changes, tracking salmon carcasses in the food web, documenting coastal erosion, and tribal subsistence resource concerns.

Dave Rugh gave a presentation about beluga management issues in Cook Inlet, which have become of acute concern because this small (approximately 350 whales), isolated population has not yet shown any appreciable rebound after unregulated hunting stopped in 1998. A status review is currently underway to reevaluate whether or not these whales should be listed as endangered. Dave Rugh also presented the keynote address for the conference, discussing the biology, abundance, distribution, and trends of belugas in Cook Inlet.

By Dave Rugh

Bowhead Whale Workshop II

On 21-22 March 2006, an international workshop met at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) regarding bowhead whale stock-structure studies conducted in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas in 2005-06. The workshop was convened by Sue Moore (AFSC), Craig George (North Slope Borough), Robert Suydam (North Slope Borough), and Dave Rugh (AFSC), with Marcia Muto (AFSC) serving as rapporteur.

The 34 attendees included scientists from the United States, Russia, Canada, and Norway. The workshop objectives were to 1) assemble and discuss available evidence pertaining to stock-structure hypotheses for bowhead whales; 2) identify aspects of the stock-structure hypotheses that are and are not supported by available data (and identify the datasets relevant to each hypothesis); 3) select or modify plausible multi-stock hypotheses for bowheads, ranked by credibility, to provide to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) Aboriginal Whaling Management Procedure (AWMP) group for use at their April 2006 workshop; and 4) list the research to be completed prior to the 2007 IWC Scientific Committee (SC) meeting, where bowhead stocks will be reviewed in detail.

During the workshop, researchers provided updates on current studies, including deployment/retrieval of acoustic recorders that documented the presence of whales throughout much of the year north of Barrow, Alaska; aerial surveys and photo-identification studies of whales north of Barrow in September and near St. Lawrence Island in April; examination of stable carbon isotopes in whale baleen to detect the animals' migratory patterns; the use of traditional knowledge to learn more about the whales' distribution and trends; documentation of the commercial whaling catch from 1849 to 1914; shore-based counts of whales migrating in the spring past the Chukotka Peninsula; analyses of genetic samples from whales taken in the annual harvest in several villages in northern Alaska; results of tagging, transect surveys, and genetic studies of bowheads in eastern Canada; and modeling of hypotheses with single or multiple stocks of whales.

The intent of the workshop was to provide the group with interim research results; final results are not expected until the May 2007 IWC Meeting. A summary report describing the previous bowhead workshop, held in February 2005, was submitted to the 2005 IWC SC meeting in Ulsan, Republic of Korea. A report summarizing the March 2006 Workshop will be submitted to the May 2006 IWC SC meeting in St. Kitts.

By Dave Rugh and Marcia Muto

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