Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Study helps preserve arctic whale, Eskimo subsistence hunt

13.06.2007
Research on one of the oldest-living mammals - the bowhead whale - has helped preserve a primary food source for Eskimos in the far reaches of Alaska, and also may provide a useful tool for studying genetic variation in other migratory animals.

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, dmain@purdue.edu
Source: John Bickham, (765) 494-5146, bickham@purdue.edu
Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Beth Forbes, forbes@purdue.edu
Agriculture News Page

Douglas M. Main | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.purdue.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Bioinvasion on the rise
15.02.2017 | Universität Konstanz

nachricht Litter Levels in the Depths of the Arctic are On the Rise
10.02.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Biocompatible 3-D tracking system has potential to improve robot-assisted surgery

17.02.2017 | Medical Engineering

Real-time MRI analysis powered by supercomputers

17.02.2017 | Medical Engineering

Antibiotic effective against drug-resistant bacteria in pediatric skin infections

17.02.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>