Polar Bear
Seal

Marine Mammals

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) - Nanuq
Updated January 2008
 
Population Status
Distribution: A discrete population of polar bears is known to range in the southern Beaufort Sea from Icy Cape, Alaska, to the Baillie Islands, NWT. There appears to be considerable movement of polar bears within this population. The annual distribution is primarily linked to the distribution of the multi-year pack ice and the availability of seals. Polar bears may become locally abundant along the Yukon coast in years when the permanent ice pack is blown south to the mainland coast. Polar bears have also been reported along the coast in association with beached marine mammals.
Population size: The population of polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea is believed to be about 2000, although the actual number ranging off the coast of the Yukon is unknown and presumed to vary.
Population trend:A mark-recapture study has just been completed in order to assess the population of polar bears in the Beaufort Sea and Amundsen Gulf.
Unique or special characteristics:
  • Polar bears in the Yukon are part of a large population ranging into Alaska and the NWT; therefore management requires interjurisdictional cooperation.
  • They have low reproductive rates, large home ranges, and are fairly specialized.
 
Habitat Features
Polar bears are marine mammals with a diet primarily of ringed seals. They are generally associated with pack-ice where they can travel and hunt. However, pregnant female bears commonly come onto land to den. From 1971-1979 four maternity dens were located on the mainland of the Yukon. More recently, from 1981-1987, with the help of radio collars, it was found that 13 of 74 maternal dens (18%) of Beaufort Sea polar bears were located on the mainland in northeastern Alaska and in Canada, and 4 on land-fast ice close to shore (6%). Most dens were on drifting pack ice, as far as 550 km offshore. Denning locations are considered to be outdated. In 2006 a project began, headed by the Canadian Wildlife Service, to examine denning on the North Slope.
 
Harvest
Inuvialuit: The harvest of polar bears in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region is restricted by quota allocated to local Hunters and Trappers Committees (HTC).
 

Inuvialuit harvesting rights to polar bears
Ivvavik National Park
exclusive
Herschel Island Territorial Park
exclusive
East of the Babbage
exclusive
Adjoining NWT
exclusive
Offshore
exclusive

The annual harvest is monitored, through compulsory reporting of the harvest and submission of a non-canine tooth, under the Management Agreement for Polar Bears in the South Beaufort Sea (1988) between the Inuvialuit of the Western Arctic and the Inupiat of northeastern Alaska.
Others: Territorial laws, under the respective Wildlife Acts of Yukon and NWT, apply to all non-Inuvialuit hunting with Inuvialuit guides. Regulations of the National Parks Act apply within Ivvavik National Park. Within Canada, polar bear tags may be used for guided commercial sport hunters.
 

Other resident harvesting
Ivvavik National Park
none permitted
Herschel Island
none permitted without Inuvialuit guide
 
East of the Babbage
Adjoining NWT

 
Eco-tourism
The occurrence of polar bears on the coast during the summer tourist season is uncommon and unpredictable, although there have been parties of adventurers who have seen a polar bear and it easily becomes the highlight of their western arctic summer holiday. More typically, polar bears are far offshore during the summer tourist season, providing limited opportunities for viewing. The Aklavik HTC chooses not to use its polar bear tags for commercial sport hunts as is done in other HTCs.
 
Threats
There is a growing concern of the effects of climate change on polar bears. In the southern part of their distribution, a trend towards longer ice-free seasons has affected their life history. Climate change also affects prey species. Other threats to polar bears are oil spills or pollution from other marine contaminants, and disruptions of denning habitat. As top predators, these bears concentrate a number of pollutants in their bodies, which could increase mortality if the levels become toxic. This species is highly vulnerable to overharvest of adult females due to its slow reproductive rate.
 
Species at Risk Status
Yukon special concern:
COSEWIC: special concern
CITES: Appendix II
 
Research and Monitoring
Research: A mark-recapture study has recently been completed in the Beaufort Sea and Amundsen Gulf to establish a firm baseline of research information on distribution, movements, and population dynamics of these polar bears. A den survey is currently underway.
The Canadian Wildlife Service studied polar bears in the Beaufort Sea during 1971-1979, 1985-1987, and 1992-1994 with the primary objective of determining demographic features and movement patterns. The US Fish and Wildlife Service also initiated polar bear studies in 1985 in the Beaufort Sea off northern Alaska to determine demographic and movement patterns, food habits, habitat use, and the distribution and characteristics of den sites. This extensive study continues with the aid of satellite radio collars. An ongoing program in Canada, with the assistance of hunters and biological submissions, is the monitoring of pollutant levels in polar bear tissue.
Deficiencies:One apparent deficiency of polar bear management in the Yukon is the lack of guaranteed protection of special denning habitat. There is no recent information on denning patterns.
Management
The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for the management of marine mammals in Canada.
 

Occurrence in jurisdictional areas
Ivvavik National Park
denning
Herschel Island Territorial Park
denning
East of the Babbage River
denning
Adjoining NWT
coastal
Offshore
 
International agreements/ management plans
IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature)
Inuvialuit Inupiat Management Agreement for Polar Bears in the Southern Beaufort Sea (1988)
International Polar Bear Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears and Their Habitat
Applicable legislation
In Alaska: The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits trade with Canada but does not provide for management of subsistence harvest.
In Canada: IFA
Wild Animal and Plant Protection Act
Yukon Wildlife Act
National Parks Act
NWT Wildlife Act
Lead enforcement agencies
Ivvavik National Park
Parks Canada
Herschel Island Territorial Park
YTG
East of the Babbage
YTG
Adjoining NWT
GNWT
Offshore
GNWT

 
Polar bear management is guided by the International Polar Bear Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears and Their Habitat (1973). Two international technical advisory groups, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialists Group and the Technical Advisory Committee of the Beaufort Sea Polar Bear Management Agreement, also guide the management and research of polar bears in an advisory capacity. Although the terms of these international agreements are not enforceable in any country and there is no infrastructure to oversee compliance, the agreements have contributed to legal protection and regulation within the signatory countries. The Wild Animal and Plant Protection Act (which replaces CITES) will control the export of polar bears or parts thereof.
 
Community-based Information
In 2004, the Inuvialuit Cultural Resources Centre prepared a report titledTariurmiutuakun qanuq atuutiviksaitlu ilitchuriyaqput ingilraan Inuvialuit qulianginnin = Learning about marine resources and their use through Inuvialuit oral history”. Transcripts from two Inuvialuit oral history collections were reviewed to see what could be learned about marine resources and their use within the southeastern Beaufort Sea. The study area included the coast from the Yukon/United States border in the west to the Franklin Bay area in the east. Information was compiled on beluga and bowhead whales, some coastal birds, fish, polar bears and seals, in an effort to provide a foundation for developing future projects on Inuvialuit knowledge of marine resources. http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/Library/279627.pdf
 
Related Literature and Information Sources
Amstrup, S. 1987. Polar bear denning in the Canadian Beaufort Sea: a summary. Unpubl. report U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Anchorage.
 
Amstrup, S., G. Durner, I. Stirling, and T. McDonald. 2005. Allocating Harvests among Polar Bear Stocks in the Beaufort Sea. Arctic. Vol. 58, no. 3, pp. 247-259.
 
Amstrup, S., I., Stirling and J. Lentrer. 1986. Size and trends of Alaskan polar bear populations. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 14: 241-254.
 
COSEWIC 2002. COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the polar bear Ursus maritimus in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/cosewic/sr_polar_bear_e.pdf
 
Durner, G., S.  Amstrup and A.  Fischbach. 2003. Habitat characteristics of polar bear terrestrial maternal den sites in northern Alaska. Arctic. 56 (1): 55-62.
 
Prestrud, P. and I. Stirling. 1994. The International Polar Bear Agreement and the current status of polar bear conservation. Aquatic Mammals, 20: 1-12.
 
Stirling, I. Personal Communication, Canadian Wildlife Service, Edmonton.
 
Stirling, I. 2002. Polar Bears and Seals in the Eastern Beaufort Sea and Amundsen Gulf: A Synthesis of Population Trends and Ecological Relationships over Three Decades. Arctic. 55, SUPP. 1 : 59–76.
http://pubs.aina.ucalgary.ca/arctic/Arctic55-S-59.pdf
 
Stirling, I., and M.K. Taylor. 1999. Update COSEWIC status report on the polar bear Ursus maritimus in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa.
 
Stirling, I., Andriashek, D. and W. Calvert. 1993. Habitat preferences of polar bears in the Western Canadian Arctic in late winter and spring. Polar Record, 29: 13-24.
 
Stirling, I. and D. Andriashek. 1992. Terrestrial denning of polar bears in the eastern Beaufort Sea area. Arctic, 45: 363-366.
 
Stirling, I. 1988. Attraction of polar bears Ursus maritimus to offshore drilling sites in the eastern Beaufort Sea. Polar Rec. 24: 1-8.
 
Stirling, I. and C. Parkinson. 2006. Possible Effects of Climate Warming on Selected Populations of Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus) in the Canadian Arctic. Arctic. Vol. 59, no. 3, pp.261–275.
 
 

Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucus) - Qilalugao
Updated January 2007
 
Population Status
Distribution: Beluga whales arrive in the Beaufort Sea during May and June following an offshore migration (hundreds of kilometres offshore of the Yukon coast) through the pack-ice, and aggregate in the Mackenzie River estuary during the month of July. The westernmost parts of this estuary aggregation occur within Yukon coastal waters, specifically near, and offshore of, the Shingle Point area.
 
During and after the estuarine aggregation period, belugas make extensive use of the waters offshore of the NWT and Yukon. They are commonly seen in nearshore areas as well. These waters comprise only a fraction of the summer range of the stock and that the whales are highly mobile, moving great distances and traveling up to 100 km per day. The return migration takes place through both coastal and offshore waters during August and September, and a portion of the stock passes westward offshore of the Yukon en route to the Bering Sea. In 1997, belugas tagged in the Mackenzie Delta moved westward along the Yukon coast, using a variety of routes ranging from nearshore to hundred's of km offshore, and aggregated near Wrangel Island for the months of October and November before proceeding through the Bering Strait.
 
Population size:The size of the beluga population is estimated at a minimum of 40,000 beluga. This is Canada’s largest population of beluga.
Population trend:The available data suggest the stock is stable or increasing.
Unique or special characteristics:
  • Belugas of this stock concentrate in the Mackenzie River estuary, which includes some waters off the Yukon coast, in very large numbers each July. This behaviour makes them susceptible to human perturbations such as industrial activity, barge and ship traffic, tourism activities, and hunting.
  • The stock is also harvested by Alaska Inupiat during spring and fall migrations along the north and west coasts of Alaska. It is thus a species of considerable international status and usage, and could be the target of whale protection activities in the future, given the International Whaling Commission's recent interest in small whale management.
Habitat Features
During July, belugas appear attracted to the warm estuarine waters of the Mackenzie River estuary. At one time, it was concluded that the warm waters were beneficial to the beluga for calf-rearing. More recent evidence indicates they are seeking appropriate substrate for "rubbing," to facilitate the annual moult, which goes on at this time.
At the same time as thousands of beluga aggregate in the estuary, others are widely distributed throughout the cold and clear offshore waters. It also appears that the whales regularly move between the warm nearshore water and the cold offshore waters during July and, by August, are widely distributed throughout the offshore. Large numbers of males are now known to travel to Viscount Melville Sound, presumably to feed. It is believed that the offshore offers abundant food resources such as Arctic cod.
 
Harvest
Inuvialuit: Inuvialuit of Aklavik, Inuvik, and Tuktoyaktuk conduct an annual subsistence harvest of beluga whales in the Mackenzie River estuary. This harvest is extremely important to the residents of the Delta communities, supplying a significant portion of their annual nutrition and an important cultural/traditional activity.
 
Under the IFA, the Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee has the authority to develop bylaws that apply to the Inuvialuit harvest of specific species, if required. NWT laws must then reflect these bylaws; bylaws may also be reflected in Ivvavik National Park regulations and Yukon wildlife regulations. Aklavik HTC (together with Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk HTCs) regulate Inuvialuit harvest through bylaws. AHTC bylaws for the harvesting of beluga are currently in place. The Fisheries Joint Management Committee makes recommendations to the Minister of Fisheries on the setting of harvest levels, if required.
 
From 1988 to 1999 Inuvialuit harvest data was collected through the Inuvialuit Harvest Study. In the period from 1988 to 1997, the average annual harvest reported by Aklavik residents was 19 belugas. The annual ISR-wide harvest over this time was 129.
 

Inuvialuit harvesting rights to beluga whale
 
preferential

 
Others: There is no harvest reported by non-Inuvialuit. Marine mammal regulations apply.
 

Other resident harvesting
Harvesting by other natives for subsistence purposes is allowed without a license. Non- natives harvesting for subsistence purposes must apply for and receive a license.
 

 
The Fisheries Joint Management Committee sponsors and coordinates the annual harvest monitoring program for the Mackenzie estuary beluga harvest, and this includes harvests from Yukon coastal waters by residents of Aklavik. The program involves counting, sampling, and measuring whales taken in the harvest, and a number of other activities. The data are collected by a harvest monitor who is a local hunter hired specifically for this purpose.
 
Harvest numbers through hunter recall were also collected by the Inuvialuit Harvest Study, from 1988 to 1999. Between 1988 and 1997, the average annual harvest reported by Aklavik residents was 19. Funding and support for the collection of harvest data is supplied through the IFA and other agencies.
 
Eco-tourism
Whale viewing by tourists and subsistence whaling are generally not compatible activities. In order to realize the opportunities associated with tourism, and at the same time preserve this important and traditional harvesting activity, the local Hunters and Trappers Committees developed guidelines for their own memberships surrounding beluga harvesting and tourism activities.
 
Threats
Potential threats to beluga whales would include any activity that could disrupt calf rearing, moulting, migration, or feeding activity. Any number of industrial or local activities could fall into this category.
 
Species at Risk Status
Yukon: none
COSEWIC: none
CITES: none
 
Research and Monitoring
Population monitoring: In the 1970s and 1980s, aerial surveys were flown to monitor whale distribution and abundance. The harvest of beluga has been monitored annually beginning in 1977, and continues to the present. There is an ongoing program to record species observed on Herschel Island.
Research: The beluga of the Mackenzie Delta and Beaufort Sea have been relatively well studied. The effects of industrial activities on beluga were examined. More recently, the FJMC has sponsored a number of programs concerned with beluga. In most cases, the programs were funded by FJMC, and delivered by DFO biologists and local Inuvialuit technicians. The programs include (1) a traditional knowledge study and enhancement of the present beluga monitoring study, (2) satellite telemetry study to examine movements and distribution, (3) an aerial survey to provide an index of abundance, and (4) a DNA study to examine genetic relationships with beluga taken in Alaska and other parts of Canada. A study to examine beluga whale health, reproduction and contaminant levels was initiated in the Mackenzie Delta in 2000.
Deficiencies: While there is still considerable amount to be learned about the Beaufort Sea beluga stock, knowledge of the stock has been greatly increased, with the Beaufort Sea Beluga Management Plan in place and continuing research programs.
 
A list of monitoring gaps and recommendations for future monitoring identified in 2005 under the NWT Cumulative Impact Monitoring Program include: data and information on range, movements, site fidelity, stock structure for beluga as indicator species; data on the impacts of development on beluga; and monitoring of ambient and anthropogenic underwater noise in the critical habitats used by beluga. http://www.nwtcimp.ca/reports_fish/marine_mammals_feb2005.pdf
 
Management
 

Occurrence in jurisdictional areas
offshore
International agreements/ management plans
Inuvialuit- Inupiat Beaufort Sea Beluga Whale Agreement
Beaufort Sea Beluga Management Plan (2001)
Applicable legislation
IFA
Fisheries Act, Marine Mammal Regulations
Lead enforcement agencies
Department of Fisheries and Oceans

 
The management of beluga whales in Yukon coastal waters is overseen by the Inuvialuit and the Department ofFisheries and Oceans through the Fisheries Joint Management Committee established under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement (1984), the Fisheries Act, and its regulations. In 1991, the FJMC, DFO and local Hunters and Trappers Committees ratified the Beaufort Sea Beluga Management Plan, providing a framework for beluga management in this region. The Inuvialuit Inupiat Beaufort Sea Beluga Whale Agreement has also been signed. http://www.fjmc.ca/
 
Community-based Information
Community-based information on beluga whales may be found in the reports of the annual community-based monitoring program conducted in Aklavik and neighbouring communities by the Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op. http://www.taiga.net/coop/community/index.html
 
In 2004, the Inuvialuit Cultural Resources Centre prepared a report titled “Tariurmiutuakun qanuq atuutiviksaitlu ilitchuriyaqput ingilraan Inuvialuit qulianginnin = Learning about marine resources and their use through Inuvialuit oral history”. Transcripts from two Inuvialuit oral history collections were reviewed to see what could be learned about marine resources and their use within the southeastern Beaufort Sea. The study area included the coast from the Yukon/United States border in the west to the Franklin Bay area in the east. Information was compiled on beluga and bowhead whales, some coastal birds, fish, polar bears and seals, in an effort to provide a foundation for developing future projects on Inuvialuit knowledge of marine resources. http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/Library/279627.pdf
 
 
Related Literature and Information Sources
Barber, D., E. Saczuk and P. Richard. 2001. Examination of Beluga-Habitat Relationships through the Use of Telemetry and a Geographic Information System Arctic. 54 (3): 305–316
 
Byers, T. and L. W. Roberts. 1995. Harpoons and ulus: collective wisdom and traditions of Inuvialuit regarding the beluga ("qilalugaq") in the Mackenzie River estuary. Byers Environmental Studies and Sociometrix Inc. Available: Fisheries Joint Management Committee, Box 2120, Inuvik, NT Canada X0E 0T0. 76p.
 
Duval, W. (ed.). 1993. Proceedings of a workshop on Beaufort Sea beluga, February 3-6, 1992, Vancouver, B.C. ESRF Report Series No. 123. Sponsored by FJMC, DFO and ESRF.
 
Erbe, C. and D. Farmer. 2000. Zones of impact around icebreakers affecting beluga whales in the Beaufort Sea. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.108 (3): 1332-1340
 
Harwood, L. Personal Communication, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Yellowknife.
 
Harwood, L., S. Innes and P. Norton. 1994. The distribution and abundance of beluga whales in the offshore Beaufort Sea, Amundsen Gulf and Mackenzie Delta, July 1992. Prep. by Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Inuvik for Fisheries Joint Management Committee.
 
Harwood, L.A., S. Innes, P. Norton and M.C.S. Kingsley. 1996. Distribution and abundance of beluga whales in the Mackenzie Estuary, southeast Beaufort Sea, and west Amundsen Gulf during late July 1992. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 53: 2262-2273.
 
Harwood, L.A., P. Norton, B. Day and P. Hall. 2002. The Harvest of Beluga Whales in Canada’s Western Arctic: Hunter-Based Monitoring of the Size and Composition of the Catch.  Arctic 55 (1):10–20
 
Harwood, L. and T Smith. 2002. Whales of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in Canada's Western Arctic: An Overview and Outlook. Arctic. 55 (1) pp. 77-93
 
Joint Secretariat, 2003. Inuvialuit Harvest Study, Data and Methods Report 1988 – 1997. Inuvik, NT.   http://www.fjmc.ca/publications/IHS.htm
 
Norton, P. and L. Harwood. 1985. White whale use of the southeastern Beaufort Sea, July - September 1984. Can. Tech. Report Fish. Aquat. Sci. 1401.
 
Richard, P.R., A.R. Martin and J.R. Orr. 1996. FJMC/ESRF/DFO Beaufort Beluga Tagging Project, 1992-1995 Final Report. Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Winnipeg.



Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) - Arviq
Updated January 2007
 
Population Status
Distribution: Bowheads have a nearly circumpolar distribution in the northern hemisphere. There are 3 recognized populations in Canada. Bowhead whales found in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region are part of the western Arctic stock (Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort population). This population overwinters in the Bering Sea and undertakes an annual migration to the Beaufort Sea and Amundsen Gulf summering areas. They arrive during May and June, and occur singularly or in pairs throughout offshore waters until about mid-August. From mid-August through to late September, they tend to form large, loose aggregations at a number of important, recurrent feeding areas. One of these areas, located in Yukon coastal waters offshore of Shingle Point and King Point, appears particularly important to sub-adult animals and is used extensively by feeding whales in most years. Coastal waters to the west, such as offshore of Komakuk, are also important to bowheads. After the aggregation period, the return migration takes place through both coastal and offshore waters during August through to October. Like beluga, presumably most of the stock passes westward offshore of Yukon en route to the Bering Sea.
 
The other two Canadian populations are the Hudson Bay-Foxe Basin population and Davis Strait-Baffin Bay population. The Hudson Bay-Foxe Basin population summers mainly in northwestern Hudson Bay and northern Foxe Basin, and may winter in northern Hudson Bay and Hudson Strait. The Davis Strait-Baffin Bay population summers in the Lancaster Sound region and western Baffin Bay and winters in Davis Strait.
 
Population size: In 2001, the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort population consisted of approximately 10,470 whales.
 
Population trend:The population is increasing at an estimated annual rate of
3.4%
 
Unique or special characteristics:
  • Depending on a number of factors, bowheads can be susceptible to industrial logistics traffic (boats, planes, barges) and possibly oil spills (fouling of baleen). Bowheads generally communicate at low frequencies, similar to frequencies emitted from industrial sources, and thus are at greater risk for disturbance or masking than other species such as beluga whales which communicate at higher frequencies.
 
Habitat Features
There are three to four known locations in the Beaufort Sea and Amundsen Gulf that are important August-September feeding sites for bowhead whales. In situ sampling for zooplankton amidst feeding bowhead whales demonstrated dense concentrations of larger forms (shrimp, amphipods, fish larvae) in the offshore feeding areas, as well as dense concentrations of the smaller copepods ("soup") in the nearshore waters offshore of King Point and Shingle Point, Yukon, at the interface of the Mackenzie River plume, and at the offshore approximately 40 km due north of Shingle Point. Upwelling of nutrient-rich waters at these coastal locations (related to frontal dynamics, bathymetry, and prevailing winds) produces favourable feeding conditions for bowheads in some, but not all, years.
 
Harvest
Inuvialuit: Fisheries Joint Management Committee makes recommendations to the Minister of Fisheries regarding harvest levels. Terms and conditions of the harvest are determined by the Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee that details of hunt plan (e.g. kind of boat, organization of hunt, etc.). A Bowhead Management Strategy is prepared by the Aklavik HTC, FJMC, and DFO, and all sign before the hunt is underway.
In June 1988, the community of Aklavik submitted a formal proposal to the Inuvialuit Game Council to harvest bowhead whales from the inshore Beaufort Sea. The IGC gave its officially supported shortly thereafter. FJMC then recommended to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans that a licence be issued to the Aklavik HTC to permit the taking of that whale.
From summer 1988 to summer 1991, many discussion meetings were held among the FJMC, Aklavik HTC, DFO officials, the US government, and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission concerning this application. The appropriate legislation was prepared, a hunt plan was written, and the bowhead whale management strategy prepared. On August 16, 1991, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced a licence would be issued for a 1991 harvest (one bowhead landed, or two struck, whichever came first), and on September 3, 1991, a 37-foot male was struck in the King Point area and landed at Shingle Point.
This whale represented the first bowhead landed by the residents of Aklavik in more than 40 years, and thus the renewal of this important traditional activity. The issuance of the 1991 licence to Aklavik demonstrated DFO’s commitment to the provisions of the IFA and a significant achievement in terms of cooperative management in this region. A second bowhead was landed in 1996 (a 37-foot male).No further licences have been requested by, or issued to, the Aklavik HTC since 1996.

Inuvialuit harvesting rights to bowhead whale
 
Harvesting of bowhead whales for subsistence purposes is allowed under the Fisheries Act, but only when authorized under a licence issued by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. The Inuvialuit Final Agreement which supersedes the Fisheries Act, stipulates that the Inuvialuit have a right to harvest marine mammals subject only to human safety considerations and conservation of the stock. Since neither safety nor conservation (considering the take of only one whale) were issues in this case, the Inuvialuit do not legally require a licence from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. (Nevertheless, the Inuvialuit chose to obtain a licence and sanctioning of the hunt by DFO.)
 

Others: There is a subsistence harvest of the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort population by Alaskan Inuit. A quota of 280 bowhead whales was set for 1999-2002, of which a total of 67 (plus up to 15 unharvested in the previous year) could be taken each year. The annual average subsistence take during the 5-year period from 1999 to 2003 is 40 bowhead whales.
Commercial trade in bowhead products is prohibited.
 
Eco-tourism
There are opportunities for viewing large numbers of bowhead whales during coastal overflights between Shingle Point and King Point, and along the coast near Herschel Island. If aircraft altitudes of 1500 ft are maintained, little disturbance of the bowhead whales is anticipated. On the other hand, extensive boat traffic (and underwater noise) may cause temporary disruption of feeding and movement of the whales from the area for several hours.
 
Threats
Potential threats to bowhead whales would include any activity that could disturb the whales and thereby disrupt calf rearing, feeding, or migration. Any number of industrial or local activities could fall into this category. Bowhead aggregate to feed. This behaviour makes them more susceptible to disturbance simply because of the potential for greater numbers of whales to be affected at one time. Any activity expected to have a zone of influence encompassing one or more of the large feeding aggregations poses a greater threat than activities that do not. Offshore oil development, ecosystem changes due to climate change (including sea ice retreat), and increasing shipping traffic, within its range could impact the population.
 
Species at Risk Status
Yukon: Special concern (see COSEWIC below)
COSEWIC: The Western Arctic population (Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort population) of bowhead whales was designated endangered in April 1986. In May 2005, it was and designated special concern based on an update status report. Also in May 2005, the same updated status report designated the Davis Strait-Baffin Bay population and the Hudson Bay-Foxe Basin population as threatened.
CITES: The bowhead is listed as an Appendix 1 species. Commercial trade in bowhead products is prohibited.
 
Bowhead whales are currently listed as Endangered under the US Endangered Species Act of 1973 and as Depleted under the US Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.
 
Research and Monitoring
Population monitoring: The FJMC and DFO take measurements and sample tissue of any landed whale. There is also a program underway to obtain samples from beached whales. There is also an ongoing program to record species observed on Herschel Island.
 
Research: There has been extensive study of western Arctic bowhead whales and their habitats. Much of this has been funded and carried out by US scientists and agencies. Programs have included visual and acoustic census, photogrammetry, effects of industrial activities on behaviour, distribution, feeding, and reproductive rate, and movement/satellite telemetry. In Canadian portions of the Bowhead’s range, including Yukon coastal waters, research occurred primarily between 1980 and1986. Much of this work was driven by the presence of the oil and gas industry in the region.
 
Deficiencies:More information about the movements and distribution of bowhead whales, particularly females with calves, is necessary to assess potential effects of industrial activities on the stock.
 
A list of monitoring gaps and recommendations for future monitoring identified in 2005 under the NWT Cumulative Impact Monitoring Program include: determining the cause of death of bowhead whales that are being washed up annually in the Amundsen Gulf and discovered by Inuvialuit harvesters in the rim communities, and the monitoring of ambient and anthropogenic underwater noise in the critical habitats used by bowhead. http://www.nwtcimp.ca/reports_fish/marine_mammals_feb2005.pdf
 
Management
The species is legally protected in Canada under the Cetacean Protection Regulations of 1982, with hunting allowed only by permit.
 
In Canada, management of bowhead whales is the responsibility of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. However, in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, management regimes reflect the provisions of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement. Management of the resources is undertaken cooperatively, with full involvement of both the resource users and the government agency through the Fisheries Joint Management Committee.
 

Occurrence in jurisdictional areas
offshore
International agreements/ management plans
International Whaling Commission (Canada is no longer a signatory)
Applicable legislation
IFA
Fisheries Act, Marine Mammal Regulations
Lead enforcement agencies
Department of Fisheries and Oceans

 
 
Community-based Information
In 2004, the Inuvialuit Cultural Resources Centre prepared a report titled “Tariurmiutuakun qanuq atuutiviksaitlu ilitchuriyaqput ingilraan Inuvialuit qulianginnin = Learning about marine resources and their use through Inuvialuit oral history”. Transcripts from two Inuvialuit oral history collections were reviewed to see what could be learned about marine resources and their use within the southeastern Beaufort Sea. The study area included the coast from the Yukon/United States border in the west to the Franklin Bay area in the east. Information was compiled on beluga and bowhead whales, some coastal birds, fish, polar bears and seals, in an effort to provide a foundation for developing future projects on Inuvialuit knowledge of marine resources. http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/Library/279627.pdf
 
Related Literature and Information Sources
Angliss, R. P., and R. B. Outlaw. 2005. Alaska marine mammal stock assessments, 2005. U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFSAFSC-161, 250 p.
Burns, J., J. Montague and C. Cowles (eds). 1993. The bowhead whale. Special Publ. No. 2, The Society for Marine Mammalogy, Kansas.
 
COSEWIC 2005. COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the bowhead whale Balaena mysticetus in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. www.sararegistry.gc.ca/status/status_e.cfm
 
George, J., J. Zeh and C. Clark. 2004. Abundance and Population Trend (1978-2001) of Western Arctic Bowhead Whales Surveyed Near Barrow, Alaska Marine Mammal Science. 20 (4): 755-773.
 
Harwood, L. and T Smith. 2002. Whales of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in Canada's Western Arctic: An Overview and Outlook. Arctic. 55 (1) pp. 77-93
 
Harwood, L. Personal Communication, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Yellowknife.
 
Treacy, S., J. Gleason snd C. Cowles. 2006. Offshore distances of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) observed during fall in the Beaufort Sea, 1982-2000 : an alternative interpretation. Arctic. 59 (1): 83-90.

 
 
 
 
 


Ringed seal (Phoca hispida) - Natchiq
Updated January 2007
 
Bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus) - Ugruk
 Updated January 2007
 
Population Status
Distribution: Both the ringed and bearded seals are resident species and do not leave the region in winter. The ringed seal has a circumpolar distribution and is the most abundant and widespread marine mammal in the Canadian Arctic. In the southeast Beaufort Sea and Amundsen Gulf, greatest densities of ringed seals during breeding (March - May) and haul-out (June) occur in the large bays of Amundsen Gulf, Prince Albert Sound and Minto Inlet, and between Nelson Head and Cape Parry. The seals are also widely distributed throughout most other areas of the Beaufort (although range in the Beaufort is unknown), including waters offshore of the Yukon. In late summer, ringed seals tend to form large, loose feeding aggregations, and coastal waters offshore of the Yukon appear to be an important area for ringed seals to feed on dense concentrations of zooplankton such as mysids.
Bearded seals are much less common than ringed seals and prefer waters shallower than 100 metres. Waters offshore of the Yukon coast are generally deeper than that and do not provide optimal habitat for bearded seals.
Population size: The number of ringed seals in the Western Arctic, including Amundsen Gulf, is approximately 650,000 seals. The fluctuation of the ringed seal population numbers are linked to polar bear population numbers. The size of the bearded seal population is not known, although during aerial surveys in the Beaufort Sea in the 1970’s, ringed seals were sighted 16:1 bearded seal.
Population trend: Believed to be stable or increasing.
 
Unique or special characteristics:
  • Ringed seals are the main prey of polar bears. Both ringed and bearded seal stocks in the Beaufort appear to be transboundary.
  • The range of the ringed seal population in this area is not known, but appears to be extensive as individuals tagged near Herschel Island in 1973 were subsequently recaptured at Banks Island and in Siberia.
  • Bearded seals are the only northern seal with four mammae rather than two.
 
Habitat Features
The availability of stable sea ice in areas of good quality and quantity of prey is critical to the well being of seals in the Beaufort Sea.
 
Like bowhead whales, ringed seals tend to form large, loose feeding aggregations during the mid-August to mid-September period. Ringed seals tend to feed on similar prey items to bowhead whales, and thus the locations of their major feeding aggregations tend to overlap. Ringed seals are particularly common in Yukon coastal waters during late summer and early fall, presumably to take advantage of the abundant food resources such as mysids and other types of zooplankton. Upwelling of nutrient-rich waters at these coastal locations (related to frontal dynamics, bathymetry, and prevailing winds) produces favourable feeding conditions for ringed seals in this area.
Bearded seals are rare in Yukon coastal waters as they prefer shallower depths and feed in benthic habitats.
 
Harvest
Inuvialuit: Under the IFA, the Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee has the authority to develop bylaws that apply to the Inuvialuit harvest of specific species, if required. NWT laws must then reflect these bylaws; bylaws may also be reflected in Ivvavik National Park regulations and Yukon wildlife regulations. There are currently no AHTC bylaws in place.
 

Inuvialuit harvesting rights to seals
 
preferential
Other resident harvesting
Non-native residents of the NWT who have lived adjacent to sealing areas may harvest seals for subsistence and do not require a licence. Non-resident harvesting for food or persons harvesting for sport require a licence.
 

 
Historically, ringed seals were important to the cash economy and domestic harvests of the Inuvialuit of this region. From 1988 to 1999 Inuvialuit harvest data was collected through the Inuvialuit Harvest Study. In the period from 1988 to 1997, the average annual harvest reported by Aklavik residents was minimal, with most years reporting no harvest. Off the Yukon coast, the reported number of ringed seals harvested annually is fewer than 10. There are no reports of bearded seals in the Inuvialuit harvest from the area. Funding and support for the collection of harvest data is supplied through the IFA and other agencies.
 
The Inuvialuit harvest approximately 500-600 ringed seals annually, with most of these coming from the community of Holman. Seals are used to feed dog teams, pelts used for handicrafts and are sold commercially, and seal meat (particularly from young seals) is eaten locally. Present day harvests are considerably lower than in the 1960’s, prior to the anti-sealing campaigns.
 
Others: The harvest of seals is regulated by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
 
Fisheries Joint Management Committee makes recommendations to the Minister of Fisheries on the setting of harvest levels, if required.
 
Eco-tourism
Tourists may be able to observe ringed seals hauled out on the ice in June (aerial flights), or in feeding aggregations in late summer and fall along with bowhead whales.
 
Threats
Ringed or bearded seals could be disturbed by a variety of industrial activities. Ringed seal pups are born in late March or April in snow lairs (caves) under the land-fast ice surface, and remain there for the six-week lactation period. They are susceptible during this time to oil spills, predation, disturbance (e.g., ice breakers), and abandonment. Bearded seal pups are born on the transition zone ice and spend two to three days with their mother before they are independent.
 
Species at Risk Status
Yukon: none
COSEWIC: none
CITES: none
 
Research and Monitoring
Population monitoring: No ongoing population monitoring based on the Yukon North Slope.A seal monitoring study was established at Holman in 1992 and has continued annually each year. There is also an ongoing program to record species observed on Herschel Island.
 
Research: The Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans is currently conducting a study in the Beaufort Sea to determine the distribution, densities, behavioural patterns, body and reproductive condition of ringed and bearded seals in areas subject to exploration activities. Seals are being captured live, measured and tagged with satellite and roto tags. Seals harvested by subsistence users are being sampled and measured. This information may be used to provide advice and recommendations for future monitoring programs to mitigate negative impacts of hydrocarbon exploration and development.
 
A project to learn about ringed seal movements in the western Canadian Arctic using satellite telemetry was conducted by DFO from1999 to 2003.
http://www.fjmc.ca/field_programs/Seals_02/Lois_Seals/Project%20Background.htm
 
Deficiencies: A list of monitoring gaps and recommendations for future monitoring identified in 2005 under the NWT Cumulative Impact Monitoring Program include: data and information on range, movements, site fidelity, stock structure for ringed seals as indicator species; data on the impacts of development on ringed seals; data on the impacts of climate change /reduced ice cover on ringed seals and bearded seals and more information on the basic life history of bearded seals.
http://www.nwtcimp.ca/reports_fish/marine_mammals_feb2005.pdf
 
Management
The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for the management of marine mammals in Canada. Laws governing the use of seals within Canada's 320-km limit are found in the federal Seal Protection Regulations.
 

Occurrence in jurisdictional areas
offshore
International agreements/ management plans
none
Applicable legislation
IFA
Fisheries Act, Marine Mammals Regulations
Lead enforcement agencies
Department of Fisheries and Oceans

 
 
Community-based Information
Community-based information on this species may also be found in the reports of the annual community-based monitoring program conducted in Aklavik and neighbouring communities by the Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op. http://www.taiga.net/coop/community/index.html
 
In 2004, the Inuvialuit Cultural Resources Centre prepared a report titled “Tariurmiutuakun qanuq atuutiviksaitlu ilitchuriyaqput ingilraan Inuvialuit qulianginnin = Learning about marine resources and their use through Inuvialuit oral history”. Transcripts from two Inuvialuit oral history collections were reviewed to see what could be learned about marine resources and their use within the southeastern Beaufort Sea. The study area included the coast from the Yukon/United States border in the west to the Franklin Bay area in the east. Information was compiled on beluga and bowhead whales, some coastal birds, fish, polar bears and seals, in an effort to provide a foundation for developing future projects on Inuvialuit knowledge of marine resources. http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/Library/279627.pdf
 
 
Related Literature and Information Sources
Government of Northwest Territories – Department of Environment and Natural Resources http://www.nwtwildlife.com/NWTwildlife/seals/seals.htm
 
Harwood, L. Personal Communication, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Yellowknife.
 
Harwood, L.A. and I. Stirling. 1992. Distribution of ringed seals in the southeastern Beaufort Sea during late summer. Can. J. Zool. 70: 891-900.
 
Joint Secretariat, 2003. Inuvialuit Harvest Study, Data and Methods Report 1988 – 1997. Inuvik, NT.   http://www.fjmc.ca/publications/IHS.htm
 
Smith, T. 1987. The ringed seal (Phoca hispida) of the western Arctic. Can. Bull. Fish. Aquatic Sci. 216.
 
Stirling, I., M. Kingsley, and W. Calvert. 1982. The distribution and abundance of seals in the eastern Beaufort Sea, 1974-79. Canadian Wildlife Service Occ. Paper No. 47.
 
Stirling, I., and N. Oritsland. 1995.Relationships between estimates of ringed seal (Phoca hispida) and polar bear (Ursus maritumus) populations in the Canadian Arctic. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 52(12): 2594-2612.