The bowhead whale, devastated in the 19th and early 20th centuries by commercial whaling fleets, has been a food staple for Eskimos and other indigenous arctic peoples dating to prehistoric times. Due in part to research done by Purdue University professor John Bickham, the International Whaling Commission ruled last week to allow Eskimos to harvest 56 whales per year, the same quota that had been in place but had expired.
"Eskimos have been whaling for more than 2,000 years and have never endangered the bowhead whale," said Bickham, the professor of forestry and natural resources who presented data from a study he co-authored at the scientific meeting of the commission in May.
Bickham said the bowhead’s population has recently been increasing by 3 percent a year, even while being harvested by subsistence hunters. The bowhead, he said, which can be 50 feet long and weigh 50 tons, should be able to increase its 11,000 population under the quota.
At the commission meeting, which ended May 31, the 76 member nations voted to renew the subsistence hunt quota for the next five years. Members of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, worried the quota might not be renewed, celebrated the news.
"Science was on our side, and the commissions listened to what the scientific committee told them," said Edward Itta, mayor of North Slope Borough, Alaska.
Bickham, also director of Purdue’s Center for the Environment, specializes in mammalian genetics and became involved with the research while still at Texas A&M University, along with doctoral student Ryan Huebinger. Researchers from Norway, Alaska and the continental United States collaborated in the study. Bickham said the study is encouraging because it shows multinational scientific solidarity on a controversial issue.
"This is an example of where science and management actually affect people’s lives," Bickham said. "In Indiana, for example, if people have to cut back on the number of white-tailed deer or other game species that can be hunted, there is little effect on people’s lives. In this case, if the bowhead hunt is stopped or the quota reduced significantly, it could really impact people’s lives in a major way, because the whale is an essential part of the Eskimo food and culture."
The study, published last month in Molecular Ecology, measured genetic variation of bowhead whales in order to shed light on the animal’s population makeup, or stock structure. This information is vital for effective management, Bickham said. If, for example, there were distinct subpopulations, the quota would likely be lowered to protect these groups, Bickham said.
Researchers typically calculate genetic variation by sampling geographically-separated populations of animals, which was not possible with the bowhead. Instead, the team developed a novel technique for studying migratory animals, which contrasts minute genetic differences via a series of complex calculations. The method could be used to study other migrants like geese or salmon, Bickham said.
Gathering genetic material from whales harvested by Eskimos as they migrated past Barrow, Alaska, in the spring and fall, researchers did detect an unexpected level of genetic variation but speculate it stems from the whale’s unusual age structure, as opposed to unique subpopulations. Bickham said he suspects the high commercial-whaling mortality rates of the 19th and early 20th centuries may be one reason for the unexpected variation.
Whalers of this period, from various developed countries, hunted many species to the brink of extinction, including the bowhead. This left a relatively small number of whales to repopulate, which could have helped cause present-day levels of genetic variation. However, more work is necessary to confirm this, Bickham said.
The bowhead, Balaena mysticetus, lives farther north than any other whale and has the lowest core body temperature. It uses its bow-shaped head to crack through the ice as it migrates north into the Beaufort Sea every summer and south into the Bering Sea for winter. Like all baleen whales, it uses specialized fibrous materials in its mouth to sift plankton from sea water.
Bickham said some bowheads may live around 200 years, and the discovery of stone spearheads lodged in living whales indicates that some pre-date the whaling era. Despite being the most-studied baleen whale, much remains a mystery.
Terms of the quota state that 51 bowheads may be hunted by the member villages of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, which comprises the Inupiat and Siberian Yupik tribes, and that five whales may be hunted by the Chukotkan Inuit in Russia.
Collaborators in this study include researchers from the University of Oslo, Norway, Colorado State University, and the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management. The study was supported by funds from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the North Slope Borough, and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, among other agencies.Writer: Douglas M. Main, (765) 496-2050, email@example.com
Douglas M. Main | EurekAlert!
Value from wastewater
16.08.2017 | Hochschule Landshut
Species Richness – a false friend? Scientists want to improve biodiversity assessments
01.08.2017 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
17.08.2017 | Earth Sciences
17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy