The 2,000-year-old tradition of whale hunting by Arctic indigenous groups kills less than one percent of the bowhead whales that migrate along the coast of Alaska and Russia in the spring and fall, according to an analysis by NOAA. Although the bowhead whale is listed as an endangered species, that level of hunting has a minor effect on the whale's population and can be sustained into the future, concluded the analysis.
The subsistence hunting habits of eleven native communities in the western Arctic were considered by NOAA. The exact number of whale kills to be allowed for these communities in 2013 is still being negotiated by the International Whaling Commission and the U.S. and Russian governments. Once that number is decided, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission will allocate the whales quota among the communities of Gambell, Savoonga, Wales, Little Diomede, Kivalina, Point Hope, Pt. Lay, Wainwright, Barrow, Nuiqsut and Kaktovik.
The International Whaling Commission proposed a limit of 82 bowhead whales per year for Alaskan Inuit and Russian natives, starting this year. If agreed to by the U.S. and Russia, that limit will hold until 2018, and then be reevaluated. An alternative limit proposed by NOAA recommended a combined total limit of 336 whales for Russian and American tribal groups over the next 6 years.
Sometime after February 17, The U.S. and Russia are expected to officially announce their agreement on the allowed number of whales to be hunted.
IMAGE: Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus), caught in an Inuit subsistence whale hunt in Igloolik, Nunavut in 2002. (Ansgar Walk, Wikimedia Commons)