Traditional Knowledge of the Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysticetus) around St. Lawrence Island, Alaska

George Noongwook, The Native Village of Savoonga, The Native Village of Gambell, Henry P. Huntington, John C. George

Abstract


Despite considerable research on the bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) in Alaskan waters, relatively little has been conducted in the northern Bering Sea. To help fill this gap, we documented traditional knowledge of bowhead whales held by Yupik whalers of St. Lawrence Island, Alaska. Results include descriptions of the seasonal movements, distribution, and abundance of bowheads near St. Lawrence Island. The bowhead population appears to be increasing, as is the number of young whales seen. Changing environmental conditions are influencing distribution, leading to a somewhat earlier spring migration and a greater presence of whales near the island in winter. Hunters describe two bowhead migration paths near the island. It is unknown whether these two paths are used by two genetically different groups of whales, or whether the animals are simply responding differently to oceanographic conditions or geography. Our findings are consistent with studies of this bowhead population conducted elsewhere and suggest that additional research is needed to determine possible migratory (or genetic) differences between the two migrations of whales seen at St. Lawrence Island.


Keywords


bowhead whale; Balaena mysticetus; St. Lawrence Island; Bering Sea; traditional knowledge; Yupik; Alaska

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic264

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