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Barrow, AK, United States

Herreman J.,North Slope Borough | Peacock E.,U.S. Geological Survey

Remains of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) harvested by Iñupiat whalers are deposited in bone piles along the coast of Alaska and have become persistent and reliable food sources for polar bears (Ursus maritimus). The importance of bone piles to individuals and the population, the patterns of use, and the number, sex, and age of bears using these resources are poorly understood. We implemented barbed-wire hair snaring to obtain genetic identities from bears using the Point Barrow bone pile in winter 2010-11. Eighty-three percent of genotyped samples produced individual and sex identification. We identified 97 bears from 200 samples. Using genetic mark-recapture techniques, we estimated that 228 bears used the bone pile during November to February, which would represent approximately 15% of the Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear subpopulation, if all bears were from this subpopulation. We found that polar bears of all age and sex classes simultaneously used the bone pile. More males than females used the bone pile, and males predominated in February, likely because 1/3 of adult females would be denning during this period. On average, bears spent 10 days at the bone pile (median = 5 days); the probability that an individual bear remained at the bone pile from week to week was 63% for females and 45% for males. Most bears in the sample were detected visiting the bone pile once or twice. We found some evidence of matrilineal fidelity to the bone pile, but the group of animals visiting the bone pile did not differ genetically from the Southern Beaufort Sea subpopulation, nor did patterns of relatedness. We demonstrate that bowhead whale bone piles may be an influential food subsidy for polar bears in the Barrow region in autumn and winter for all sex and age classes. Source

Horstmann-Dehn L.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | Follmann E.H.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | Rosa C.,Us Arctic Research Commission | Zelensky G.,Chukotka Science Support Group | George C.,North Slope Borough
Marine Mammal Science

Collection of minimally invasive biopsy samples has become an important method to establish normal stable isotopes reference ranges in various wildlife species. Baseline data enhance the understanding of feeding ecology, habitat use, and potential food limitation in apparently healthy, free-ranging cetaceans. Epidermis and muscle were collected from subsistence-hunted northern Alaskan bowhead (n= 133 epidermis/134 muscle) and beluga whales (n= 42/49) and subsistence-hunted Russian gray whales (n= 25/17). Additional samples were obtained from gray whales stranded in California (n= 18/11) during mortality events (1999, 2000). Both δ 15N and δ 13C are trophic position and benthic/pelagic feeding indicators, respectively, in muscle and epidermis. Epidermis is generally enriched in 15N over muscle, while epidermal 13C is more depleted. Lipid extraction does not alter δ 15N in either tissue, but affects epidermal δ 13C. Nitrogen-15 is enriched in muscle, but not epidermis of stranded compared to subsistence-hunted gray whales, indicating probable protein catabolism and nutritional stress in stranded whales. Similarly, epidermal δ 13C of harvested whales is lower than in stranded whales, suggesting depleted lipid stores and/or food limitation in stranded animals. Epidermal isotope signatures are similar in both present-day bowheads and in an ancient sample from the Northern Bering Sea region. Although only one specimen, this suggests trophic level of the ancient whale compares to modern bowheads after a millennium. © 2011 by the Society for Marine Mammalogy. Source

Citta J.J.,Alaska Department of Fish and Game | Quakenbush L.T.,Alaska Department of Fish and Game | George J.C.,North Slope Borough | Small R.J.,Alaska Department of Fish and Game | And 4 more authors.

Working with subsistence whale hunters, we tagged bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) with satellite-linked transmitters and documented their movements in the Bering Sea during two winters. We followed 11 whales through the winter of 2008-09 and 10 whales in 2009-10. The average date that bowhead whales entered the Bering Sea was 14 December in 2008 and 26 November in 2009. All but one tagged whale entered the Bering Sea west of Big Diomede Island. In the winter of 2008-09, whales were distributed in a line extending from the Bering Strait to Cape Navarin, whereas in 2009-10, the distribution shifted south of St. Lawrence Island, extending from Cape Navarin to St. Matthew Island. Bowhead whales were most likely to be found in areas with 90%-100% sea-ice concentration and were generally located far from the ice edge and polynyas. The average date whales left the Bering Sea was 12 April in 2009 and 22 April in 2010. During the spring migration, all whales but one traveled north along the Alaska coast to summering grounds in the Canadian Beaufort. The remaining whale migrated a month later and traveled up the northern coast of Chukotka, where it was located when the tag stopped transmitting in August. It is unlikely that this whale migrated to the Beaufort Sea before returning south to winter within the Bering Sea, indicating the movements of bowhead whales are more complex than generally believed. Declining sea ice in the Bering Sea may result in the expansion of commercial fisheries and shipping; areas where such activities may overlap the winter range of bowhead whales include the Bering and Anadyr straits, the eastern edge of Anadyr Bay, and St. Matthew Island. © The Arctic Institute of North America. Source

George J.C.,North Slope Borough | Follmann E.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | Zeh J.,University of Washington | Sousa M.,University of Alaska Southeast | And 3 more authors.
Canadian Journal of Zoology

We used lengths and reproductive data for bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus L., 1758) harvested by Alaskan Eskimos to estimate female reproductive parameters and age. Data from 117 females determined that 75 were sexually mature and 42 were immature. Estimated length at sexual maturity was 13.35 m. Counts of ovarian corpora were obtained from 50 mature females. Corpora and baleen data were used with aspartic acid racemization (AAR) data to obtain estimated age at sexual maturity (ASM) at 26 years. The number of corpora counted in both ovaries (or estimated when only one ovary was counted) was used with ASM and estimated ovulation rate (OR) to obtain corpora age estimates ranging from 26 to 149 years. A stone harpoon tip recovered from whale 92B2 was consistent with her corpora age of 133 years. The correlation between corpora and AAR age estimates was 0.77. Estimated standard errors of corpora ages tended to be somewhat higher than those for comparable AAR ages. A sample of potentially mature females examined for maturity and presence of a corpus luteum and (or) fetus provided an OR value of 0.332·year -1 and an estimated pregnancy rate of 0.326·year -1, implying intervals between ovulations and pregnancies of 3.0 and 3.1 years. Source

Moore S.E.,Washington Technology | George J.C.,North Slope Borough | Sheffield G.,Alaska Department of Fish and Game | Bacon J.,North Slope Borough | Ashjian C.J.,Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Aerial surveys for bowhead whales were conducted in conjunction with oceanographic sampling near Barrow, Alaska, in late summer of 2005 and 2006. In 2005, 145 whales were seen, mostly in two distinct aggregations: one (ca. 40 whales) in deep water in Barrow Canyon and the other (ca. 70 whales) in very shallow (< 10 m) water just seaward of the barrier islands. Feeding behaviours observed in the latter group included whales lying on their sides with mouths agape and groups of 5-10 whales swimming synchronously in turbid water. In 2006, 78 bowheads were seen, with ca. 40 whales feeding in dispersed groups of 3-11 whales. Feeding behaviours observed included surface skimming, echelon swimming, and synchronous diving and surfacing. Surfacing behaviour included head lunges by single animals and groups of 2-4 whales. Of 29 whales harvested at Barrow, 24 had been feeding. Euphausiids were the dominant prey in 2006 (10 of 13 stomachs), but not in 2005 (4 of 11 stomachs). Copepods were the dominant prey in the stomachs of three whales harvested near Barrow Canyon in 2005. Mysiids were the dominant prey in four stomachs, isopods in two, and amphipods in one although these taxa were not routinely captured during plankton sampling conducted in the weeks prior to the autumn harvest. © The Arctic Institute of North America. Source

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