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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

ALASKA PENINISULA & BECHAROF:Beluga Whales Provide Information and Subsistence

Region 7, July 19, 2013
Refuge Volunteer Tom Prang removes tissue samples and skull from dead beluga.
Refuge Volunteer Tom Prang removes tissue samples and skull from dead beluga. - Photo Credit: n/a

In May, two beluga whales in the Naknek River drew special attention. One was found dead, wedged beneath the borough dock. The other, a juvenile, was accidentally drowned in a subsistence net.


The adult whale was spotted in the evening of May 18 by a crew member on a vessel tied up at the borough dock. A series of phone calls led to the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline: 877-925-7773. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Office of Protected Resources is interested in all marine mammal strandings nationwide and provides this toll free number to collect information. NMFS has management responsibility for belugas and other whales.

Wildlife Biologist Dominique Watts, Visitor Services Manager Julia Pinnix, and Refuge Volunteer Tom Prang responded. The boat’s captain used the vessel’s crane to lift the whale over the deck so tissue samples and the head and pectoral flippers could be retrieved. With a permit from NMFS, the skull and bones will be used for education and display at the Refuge.

On May 22, Bristol Bay School middle school students were on the beach for Sea Week. A young beluga became entangled in a subsistence salmon net. It was too deep to safely reach before it drowned. The Alaska Native owner of the net butchered and distributed the meat and blubber so it would not be wasted. Tissue samples from both whales were delivered to NMFS in Anchorage. A wide range of information can be gleaned from these materials.

Alaska Natives are allowed to harvest beluga whales for traditional subsistence in a non-wasteful manner. For questions about beluga or other marine mammals, call the NMFS Alaska Regional Office at 907-271-5006; or visit the website: www.nmfs.noaa.gov.

Contact Info: Julia Pinnix, 907-246-1211, Julia_Pinnix@fws.gov