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Ecol Appl. 2008 Mar;18(2 Suppl):S135-47.

Marine mammal harvests and other interactions with humans.

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  • 1CICERO (Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research-Oslo), P.O. Box 1129, Blindern, N-0318 Oslo, Norway.


The Arctic is currently undergoing rapid social and environmental changes, and while the peoples of the north have a long history of adapting, the current changes in climate pose unprecedented challenges to the marine mammal-human interactions in the Arctic regions. Arctic marine mammals have been and remain an important resource for many of the indigenous and nonindigenous people of the north. Changes in climate are likely to bring about profound changes to the environment in which these animals live and subsequently to the hunting practices and livelihoods of the people who hunt them. Climate change will lead to reduction in the sea ice extent and thickness and will likely increase shipping through the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage and oil and gas activities in Arctic areas previously inaccessible. Such activities will lead to more frequent interactions between humans and marine mammals. These activities may also change the distribution of marine mammals, affecting the hunters. This paper has three parts. First, an overview of marine mammal harvesting activities in the different circumpolar regions provides a snapshot of current practices and conditions. Second, case studies of selected Arctic regions, indigenous groups, and species provide insight into the manner in which climate change is already impacting marine mammal harvesting activities in the Arctic. Third, we describe how climate change is likely to affect shipping and oil and gas exploration and production activities in the Arctic and describe the possible implications of these changes for the marine mammal populations. We conclude that many of the consequences of climate change are likely to be negative for marine mammal hunters and for marine mammals. Lack of adequate baseline data, however, makes it difficult to identify specific causal mechanisms and thus to develop appropriate conservation measures. Nonetheless, the future of Arctic marine mammals and human uses of them depends on addressing this challenge successfully.

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