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National Marine Mammal Laboratory

Satellite Tagging of Belugas in Anadyr Bay, Russia

map of beluga whale locationsin Anadyr Bay Figure 1.  Satellite-determined locations of belugas tagged in July 2001 in Anadyr Bay, Russia.  Map by Kristin Laidre (NMML):  data provided by Lloyd Lowry (Alaska Department of Fish and Game, retired); Robert Suydam (North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management); and Pierre Richard (Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans).

The National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML) hosted a workshop in November 2000 to facilitate discussion among native hunters, researchers, and wildlife managers interested in understanding the movements and relatedness of beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) endemic to western Arctic waters.  Participants included representatives from Russia, Canada, the United States, Denmark, and Greenland.  The workshop was initiated and coordinated by Canadian researchers, who had successfully tagged belugas in the Canadian Beaufort Sea and tracked them across the Alaskan Beaufort and into the Chukchi Sea.  There the whales’ tracks converged near Wrangel Island and along Russia’s Chukotka coast.  Based upon these tracks, reviews of current knowledge of genetic relatedness among belugas in the western Arctic and discussions regarding the summering of belugas in Anadyr Bay, two central questions emerged from the workshop: Where do belugas that summer in the Canadian Beaufort Sea spend the winter?  How are beluga stocks that summer in Anadyr Bay related to the five recognized stocks that summer in the waters off Alaska and northwest Canada?  While field work to address the first question is still in the planning stages, the second question was addressed during a 10-day tagging and biopsy field program during July 2001.

North American scientists were invited to participate in a beluga capture and tagging project in Anadyr Bay, Russia, by the Russian Ministry of Environment and Endangered Species, Moscow, and the Chukotka branch of the Pacific Scientific Research Fisheries Center (TINRO).  The research gave two North American scientists, Jack Orr from the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Greg O’Corry-Crowe from the NMFS, the opportunity to:  1) catch and tag whales in Anadyr Bay and monitor their movements and habitat use; 2) collect biopsy samples for genetic comparisons with whales throughout Chukotka and the entire Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort region; 3) share beluga capture and tagging methods and technology with Russian scientists in the field; and 4) gain logistical experience in collaborative research studies in Russia.

Between 15 and 24 July 2001, the two North American scientists worked with a team of Russian scientists to tag and biopsy beluga whales in Anadyr Bay, in the Chukotka region of Russia.  A 500-m seine net was used to corral a group of whales in a small, sheltered cove (Calm Bay).  Captured whales were carefully towed to shore, where they were measured, skin samples collected for genetic analysis, and six animals (two adult females, one adult male, one sub-adult female, and two sub-adult males) tagged with satellite transmitters attached to their dorsal ridge with nylon pins (Table 1 below).  Four North American transmitters and two Russian transmitters were used in the tagging operations.

Table 1.  Belugas captured or sampled in July 2001 in Anadyr Bay, Russia.
Beluga ID No. Date Tag No. Length (cm) Sex Color Location
DL-ANR-01-01 7/18/01 2285 395 F    white Calm Bay
DL-ANR-01-02 7/18/01 10970 379 F    white Calm Bay
DL-ANR-01-031 7/18/01 160-180 M    dark gray Calm Bay
DL-ANR-01-04 7/18/01   349 F    light gray Calm Bay
DL-ANR-01-05 7/18/01 327 M    gray Calm Bay
DL-ANR-01-06 7/20/01 25850 304 M    gray Calm Bay
DL-ANR-01-07 7/20/01 30719 320 M    light gray Calm Bay
DL-ANR-01-08 7/20/01 Moscow-#2 385 M    white Calm Bay
DL-ANR-01-09 7/20/01 Moscow-#1 F    gray Calm Bay
DL-ANR-01-10 7/20/01   318 M    gray Calm Bay
DL-ANR-01-11 7/20/01 302 F    gray Calm Bay
DL-ANR-01-12 7/21/01   292 M    gray Calm Bay
DL-ANR-01-132 7/22/01    light gray Ferry Dock
DL-ANR-01-142 7/22/01          white Ferry Dock
1Probable calf of DL-ANR-01-02.
2Skin samples were collected from free-swimming whales with a crossbow.

After tagging was completed, crossbows were used to collect additional skin samples from belugas close to shore.  Although some difficulties (which have since been resolved) were experienced while deploying and retrieving the biopsy darts, skin samples were collected from two belugas swimming near the Anadyr ferry dock (Table 1 above).  Use of this biopsy technique in future studies should enable the collection of large numbers of skin samples from belugas throughout Chukotka.

All four of the North American satellite tags transmitted data through August 2001, and three tags continued to transmit location data as of December 2001.  Satellite-determined positions of these three tags showed that the whales remained in Anadyr Bay until the end of September, moved into the Gulf of Anadyr in October, traveled northward to Kresta Bay in November, then back out to the central Gulf of Anadyr in December (Figure 1 above).  The movement patterns of the two whales with Russian tags were similar to those of the other tagged whales during the same time period; the Russian tags transmitted data for 1 week and 1 month, respectively.

Collaboration between Russian and North American scientists continues as the telemetry and genetics data are analyzed.  This project was the first collaborative effort of its kind, and it is hoped that this work will set the stage for more long-term studies of Arctic cetaceans.  The work could not have been accomplished without the support and integration of effort from the Alaska Beluga Whale Committee (ABWC), Alaska’s North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management, the Inuvialuit Fisheries Joint Management Committee, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the Russian Ministry of Environment and Endangered Species, and Russia’s Pacific Scientific Research Fisheries Center (TINRO)

By Sue Moore, Greg O’Corry-Crowe, and Rod Hobbs.


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