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Polar Ecosystems Program

Comanagement Activities with Alaska Native Organizations

A workshop convened by the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission during February 2008 in Anchorage. The workshop included representatives of Alaska Native organizations, Federal and state agencies, and nongovernmental organizations. The purpose of the workshop was to review the accomplishments and challenges encountered since the 1994 amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act established the authority for the Federal government to enter into cooperative agreements with Alaska Native organizations for the comanagement of subsistence uses of marine mammals. The agenda for the 3-day workshop included discussions of harvest monitoring, traditional ecological knowledge, research, education, outreach, conflict resolution, structures of comanagement agreements, hunter representation, funding, capacity building, and many other topics relevant to comanagement. The Marine Mammal Commission will issue a report to Congress on the workshop findings and recommendations.

A meeting of the North Slope Borough (NSB) Fish and Game Management Committee. The NSB is one of five regions represented on the Alaska Native Ice Seal Committee, with which NMFS has an agreement for comanagement of ice-associated seals and their subsistence use in Alaska. A presentation was given to introduce PEP research projects and to encourage participation of North Slope communities in the planning and implementation of a study on bearded seals in the Chukchi Sea. The study, funded by the Minerals Management Service, aims to identify important areas for bearded seal foraging, reproduction, and molting.

A meeting with the Aleut Marine Mammal Commission (AMMC) and Tribal Government of St. Paul Island to help establish and coordinate the AMMC Sentinel Program, in which local residents of the Aleutian Islands will monitor marine mammal and other ecological occurrences and events around their communities.

A meeting with the Alaska Native Harbor Seal Commission to discuss comanagement activities and the need to refine the definitions of harbor seal stock boundaries for better agreement with genetic and other evidence of population structure.

By Peter Boveng

Polar Ecosystems Program Prepares for Ice Seal Research Cruises

Bearded, spotted, ringed, and ribbon seals, often referred to collectively as "ice seals," are seasonally ice-associated species that may be vulnerable to climate warming through loss of sea ice. The ice seals found in the Bering Sea during spring have rarely been studied, and there are no current estimates of abundance or comprehensive descriptions of their distribution and habitat use. Further, they are critical to the nutritional and cultural sustainability of Alaska Native communities along the Bering Sea coast.

Local concentrations of these animals on the ice are some of the most conspicuous indicators of prey concentrations and associated biological and physical processes in the underlying water and benthos. A fundamental understanding of these seals’ abundance, distribution, and foraging ecology is therefore essential for an understanding of the mechanistic links between lower-trophic and human components of the Bering ecosystem.

From April to June 2008, the Polar Ecosystems Program (PEP) will conduct research on seals in the sea ice of the Bering Sea during three cruises: one aboard the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea, one aboard the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson, and one aboard the NOAA ship Miller Freeman.

The main objective on the Polar Sea will be to use the ship’s helicopter to conduct surveys of the sea ice for distribution and abundance of seals. The objectives of the Oscar Dyson and Miller Freeman cruises will be to conduct satellite-telemetry studies of movements and foraging behavior and to gain a better understanding of ribbon and spotted seals' relationships to sea ice during the critical periods of reproduction (April–Oscar Dyson) and molting (June–Miller Freeman).

In all, 16 people will participate on the PEP research teams. Three Alaska Natives with extensive local and traditional knowledge of seals and sea ice will be part of the teams, to further the goals of a comanagement agreement between NMFS and the Alaska Native Ice Seal Committee. Preparation for these cruises was a primary focus of PEP staff during January–March 2008.

More information on the cruises will be available on the PEP web page at

By Peter Boveng 

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