Diet and feeding observations from an unusual beluga harvest in 2014 in Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories, Canada
|Author(s)||Loseto Lisa L.1, Brewster Jasmine D.2, Ostertag Sonja K.1, Snow Kathleen2, Macphee Shannon A.1, McNicholl Darcy G.1, Choy Emily S.3, Giraldo Carolina4, Hornby Claire A.1|
|Affiliation(s)||1 : Fisheries & Oceans Canada, Freshwater Inst, 501 Univ Crescent, Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N6, Canada.
2 : Fisheries & Oceans Canada, POB 1871, Inuvik, NT X0E 0T0, Canada.
3 : Univ Manitoba, Dept Biol Sci, 500 Univ Crescent, Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N2, Canada.
4 : Ifremer, HMMN, Ctr Manche Mer Nord, BP 669, F-62321 Boulogne Sur Mer, France.
|Source||Arctic Science (2368-7460) (Canadian Science Publishing, Nrc Research Press), 2018-09 , Vol. 4 , N. 3 , P. 421-431|
|WOS© Times Cited||18|
|Keyword(s)||beluga diet, stomach contents, traditional and local knowledge, Sandlance|
The Eastern Beaufort Sea (EBS) beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) population are an important traditional food for the Inuit of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Northwest Territories (NT) Canada. In 2014, over 30 beluga whales were harvested at Ulukhaktok, NT, the first occurrence for a large harvest in the area. Unlike observations from the established beluga harvest monitoring in the Mackenzie Estuary, these belugas had numerous prey and prey items in their stomachs. Our study objectives were to combine traditional and local knowledge (TLK) from beluga hunters with the analysis of dissected stomachs to identify EBS beluga diet, feeding behaviour, as well as gain insights into potential drivers of the event. TLK holders witnessed foraging behaviors such as herding schools of fish. Stomach dissections revealed Sandlance (Ammodytes sp.) to be the predominant prey species, comprising 90% of identified otoliths, occurring in 92% of stomachs. The low presence of Arctic Cod (Boreogadus saida) otoliths, a preferred prey, raised questions about availability/accessibility and if alternative prey can sustain beluga energetic needs. Based on interviews of TLK holders, avoidance of noise due to human activity, killer whale presence, and shifts in prey were factors that may have led to the increased beluga sightings near Ulukhaktok NT.