Local knowledge to support whale monitoring in Inuvialuit Sonja K. Ostertag, Lisa L. Loseto, Kathleen Snow, Jennifer Lam, Kristin Hynes, David Victor Gillman

1. The beluga whale harvest monitoring program has provided critical information about beluga health and observed changes in the Eastern Beaufort Sea beluga population that migrates to the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the western Canadian Arctic every summer.

2. Inuvialuit traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) about beluga was captured through questionnaires, interviews, and public meetings and a suite of local indicators of beluga health that bridged TEK with western science through the co-production of knowledge was developed.

3. Inuvialuit TEK on belugas health is based on community members' experience harvesting and observing beluga and the knowledge passed down from previous generations. Inuvialuit TEK about beluga includes the physical and behavioural characteristics of belugas, cosmology and values around how to behave when hunting.

4. This research furthers our understanding of Inuvialuit TEK and how Inuvialuit values and knowledge can support monitoring of beluga health.

Inuvialuit, Inuit from the western Canadian Arctic, and their ancestors managed and sustainably harvested beluga whales for centuries using traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and practices. Until recently, Western scientific indicators of beluga health were used to monitor changes in beluga health but TEK and local observations made by Inuvialuit harvesters were not recorded in beluga harvest monitoring.

We interviewed Inuvialuit with experience harvesting and/or preparing beluga to find out how they know that belugas are healthy. We also asked harvesters to answer questions about the health and condition of the whales that traditional harvest camps in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region between 2013 and 2016. The answers to these questions about beluga health were used to understand how Inuvialuit know that belugas are in good condition or if they may be sick or starving. We reviewed these answers with community experts that were selected by the Hunters and Trappers Committees (HTCs) of Inuvik, Paulatuk, and Tuktoyaktuk.

The values held by Inuvialuit about beluga include the need for knowledge transmission about beluga health from elders to younger generations. Community members would like to have more information about the results from beluga research and the implications for human health.

Local indicators of beluga condition and disease were selected based on the recommendation from the community experts and included observations about the appearance and behaviour of harvested whales. These indicators will be used to track changes in beluga health and support on-going sampling and monitoring programs.

The knowledge shared by Inuvialuit for this study will allow the Fisheries Joint Management Board to include more traditional and local knowledge in beluga monitoring. We recommend that Inuvialuit are engaged in the design and implementation of future beluga studies to ensure that TEK is recorded alongside western science to support adaptive co-management.

Read the full paper in Arctic Science: "That's how we know they're healthy": the inclusion of traditional ecological knowledge in beluga health monitoring in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region

Corresponding author: Sonja K. Ostertag, Sonja.Ostertag@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

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