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Catch history former abundance and distribution of white whales in hudson strait and ungava bay canada


, : Catch history former abundance and distribution of white whales in hudson strait and ungava bay canada. Naturaliste Canadien (Quebec) 114(1): 1-66

International concern about the conservation status of white whale (Delphinapterus leucas) stocks hunted by settlements in northern Quebec prompted this study of their history of exploitation. Archival sources, particularly post journals, letters, and other documents in the Hudson's Bay Company Archives, were used to study seasonal distribution and evaluate stock relationships reconstruct the catch history, identify factors affecting hunting effort and efficiency, detect trends in whale abundance (or availability), and estimate past population size. In addition to northern Quebec, sites along the south coast of Baffin Island and the Labrador coast south to Makkovik were covered. The only part of the study area where a regular, organized commercial fishery for white whales is documented in southern Ungava Bay. There, groups of whales were shut off with nets in shallow embayments, then stranded and killed at low tide. In addition, at most trading posts throughout Hudson Strait and Ungava Bay and along the Labrador coast, white whales were taken in set nets and hunted by shooting from boats. The removals for commercial purposes were, to some degree, superimposed on the traditional subsistence hunting for whales by Inuit. Hides and oil were the chief products of the commercial fishery, though the meat was valued as dog food and the skin (muktuk) as human food. The commercial fishery in southern Ungava Bay, based at Fort Chimo on the Koksoak River, also involved hunts at the Leaf and Whale rivers. Whaling by the Hudson's Bay Company began as a regular activity at Fort Chimo in about 1867. The documented catch in the Fort Chimo fishery during the 1860's was only about 50 whales; during the 1870's, more than 160; during the 1880's, about 700; during the 1890's, again about 700; and during the first 12 years of the twentieth century, only about 60. The fishery effectively spanned about 45 years, from 1867 to 1902. Though documentation is certainly incomplete, at least 1,340 whales were taken between 1877 and 1897. The decade of highest documented catch was that of 1883-1892, when a minimum of 820 whales was secured. Most evidence suggests that the availability of white whales to the southern Ungava Bay fishery had declined by the turn of the century and that depletion caused the fishery to crash in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. Substantial catches have been made for subsistence at the river mouths in southern Ungava Bay since 1975. Questions about stock relationships are unresolved and thus confound any analysis of trends in abundance. While the summering population in southern Ungava Bay appears discrete from other summer populations (e.g. in various parts of Hudson Bay and Cumberland Sound), the probable migration of whales from these other areas, especially Hudson Bay, into Hudison Strait and Ungava Bay during autumn and winter could mask evidence of depletion. Nevertheless, it seems clear that a population numbering at least 800-1000 whales in 1876 has been reduced to only a few scattered individuals at present. Continued hunting, particularly in the "nursery" area at the mouth of the Mucalic River, may threaten the survival of the Ungava Bay summer stock.

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