Keeping an eye on the whales
Nunavut's beluga populations are healthy

by Cheryl Leschasin
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 01/97) - Though most beluga whales in arctic waters aren't in any danger, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board said it isn't taking any chances with some populations off the south Baffin coastline.

"There's only a few areas that have quotas," said Daniel Pike, director of wildlife management for the board.

The board is the agency responsible for setting harvest limits and setting hunting and fishing regulations.

In Pangnirtung, the beluga quota is 35 yearly, and it's the same in Iqaluit. Kimmirut's quota is 20 during summer, but there's no limit the rest of the year.

The board is currently running a harvest study, which means the actual number of beluga -- along with all other hunted species -- are being carefully counted.

Pike estimated that between 200 and 300 beluga whales are harvested in the Canadian Arctic yearly.

None of those are considered threatened or endangered species. "Some stocks are now considered threatened or endangered," said Pike, referring to whales in the Ungava region.

Beluga whales differ slightly from region to region. For example, beluga in the High Arctic are much larger than those found in Hudson Bay.

"There are also slight genetic differences between groups," said Pike.

Quota depends upon the number and type of animals in an area, which is usually determined by aerial observation. However, this method is not entirely reliable.

"It's difficult because some of the animals are underwater," said Pike.

Groups can be tracked using a transmitting device attached to a whale through the dorsal ridge -- belugas have no dorsal fin because they need to travel beneath ice.

In 1994, beluga world populations were estimated to be between 62,000 and 80,000.

Beluga whales are used by hunters for either human or dog food. The hide of a beluga is the only whale skin thick enough to be tanned.