24 August 2005

Canada: Northern community allowed to hunt endangered whale

Hunters from Repulse Bay in eastern Nunavut prepared Sunday to harpoon a bowhead whale for the first time in decades, after federal officials approved a hunt on the at-risk species.

Last week the Department of Fisheries and Oceans issued a variation order that makes it legal for the community to take one bowhead from the Foxe Basin/Hudson Bay population.

A hunt license was issued on Saturday and hunt organizer Laimichi Malachi said several have been spotted in nearby waters.

The hunt fits in with a bowhead management plan developed by the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said Michelle Wheatley, department director for the eastern Arctic.

"The bowhead whale populations were depleted by commercial whaling, not by the Inuit subsistence hunt," Wheatley said.

The bowhead, named for its large skull shaped like a ship's bow, grows to about 20 metres and can live to be 200 years old. They numbered about 11,000 in the eastern Arctic during the early 1800s, but hunting dropped their numbers until Canada banned the practice in 1915.

Canada placed the bowhead on an endangered species list in the 1980s. The U.S. lists it as endangered also.

Scientists estimated in 1991 that about 2,500 of the whales remained and recent aerial surveys suggest there are at least 345 in the Foxe Basin/Hudson Bay population.

Killing bowheads without a license was prohibited in Canada in 1979, but some Inuit communities obtained permission to hunt them on a subsistence basis.

Scientific data and the Inuit indicate that bowhead whales have been increasing since the commercial whaling ended, Wheatley said. Community elders who said they rarely encountered the whale as youngster were now seeing more of them.

"The recommended harvest rates are unlikely to have a significant impact on those populations," she added.

She says the federal fisheries minister is considering recommending the eastern Arctic bowhead populations be downgraded from an endangered species to a threatened species under the Species at Risk Act.

Wheatley said the change wouldn't necessarily have an impact on quotas. Consultations with communities and the Nunavut Wildlife Management board are to continue this fall. The two have been working on a long-term recovery strategy that would manage the species for the next 100 years.

Source: www.cbc.ca


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