Use of Landfast Sea Ice as a Platform for Subsistence Whaling in a Changing Environment
Matthew L. Druckenmiller1, Hajo Eicken1, J. Craig George2
Druckenmiller et al poster (2.2 MB-PDF)
1University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2Department of Wildlife Management, North Slope Borough
The spring whale harvest throughout Arctic Alaska is a prime example of the use of sea ice as a platform for human activities. Whaling trails are cleared through the highly deformed landfast ice to allow whaling crews to position themselves along open leads in wait for the migratory passage of bowhead whales—an important cultural and subsistence resource for many Iñupiaq Eskimo communities. In Barrow, wildlife biologists with the North Slope Borough have geographically referenced whaling trails in years 2003–2006; however, a thorough collection of this data along side detailed information about ice conditions has yet to be initiated. Here we examine a subset of this data in conjunction with information about landfast ice conditions obtained from analysis of remote sensing and ground-based observations. This preliminary work holds promise for a multi-year comprehensive documentation of trail data, such as trail location, density, tortuosity, and construction effort, in relation to sea-ice conditions (e.g., landfast ice stability, topography, and sea-ice concentration) and weather (e.g., seasonally dominant wind speed and direction as well as ocean currents), thus providing insight into the factors that play a role in trail construction. Data correlations may assist in assigning a relative importance factor to various types of local sea-ice knowledge that are employed during the spring whale harvest. Looking forward toward the development and refinement of coastal sea-ice observational tools for stakeholders, this analysis may help ensure that such resources address stakeholder interests. This data may also provide information on the temporal and spatial scale of sea-ice observations and predictions needed to inform the whole of a whaling community. As of the 2006 ice season, data on sea-ice conditions is being provided by Radarsat satellite imagery and the Barrow Ice Observatory’s land-based X-band marine radar (a component of the Alaska Ocean Observing System)—a tool that currently provides Barrow residents with near-real-time information on coastal sea-ice conditions. Since various factors play a role in trail construction, interviews with sea-ice and whaling experts of the Barrow community will be important. In extending this small pilot study we plan to gain insight into how large-scale changes in the sea-ice environment impact subsistence hunting and other human activities on a regional or local scale.