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Biol Lett. 2016 Aug;12(8). pii: 20160198. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2016.0198.

Effects of changing sea ice on marine mammals and subsistence hunters in northern Alaska from traditional knowledge interviews.

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Huntington Consulting, 23834 The Clearing Drive, Eagle River, AK 99577, USA
Alaska Department of Fish and Game, 1300 College Road, Fairbanks, AK 99701, USA.


Marine mammals are important sources of food for indigenous residents of northern Alaska. Changing sea ice patterns affect the animals themselves as well as access to them by hunters. Documenting the traditional knowledge of Iñupiaq and Yupik hunters concerning marine mammals and sea ice makes accessible a wide range of information relevant to understanding the ecosystem to which humans belong. We interviewed hunters in 11 coastal villages from the northern Bering Sea to the Beaufort Sea. Hunters reported extensive changes in sea ice and weather that have affected the timing of marine mammal migrations, their distribution and behaviour and the efficacy of certain hunting methods. Amidst these changes, however, hunters cited offsetting technological benefits, such as more powerful and fuel-efficient outboard engines. Other concerns included potential impacts to subsistence hunting from industrial activity such as shipping and oil and gas development. While hunters have been able to adjust to some changes, continued environmental changes and increased disturbance from human activity may further challenge their ability to acquire food in the future. There are indications, however, that innovation and flexibility provide sources of resilience.


Alaska; Arctic marine mammals; indigenous communities; sea ice; traditional knowledge

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