Inuvialuit knowledge of beluga under a changing climate Devin Waugh, Tristan Pearce, Sonja K. Ostertag, Verna Pokiak, Peter Collings, and Lisa L. Loseto

1. Ongoing scientific studies in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) have contributed greatly to understandings of beluga whale in the area. But Inuvialuit knowledge and use of harvested beluga developed over hundreds of years of interaction with the species has received comparatively less attention, particularly in the context of a changing climate.

2. Seventeen active and formerly active beluga harvesters in the ISR community of Tukotyaktuk were interviewed regarding their traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of beluga behaviour and ecology, the hunting techniques they use to secure the whales, the preparation methods for food products made from the landed whales, and if and how environmental changes are impacting TEK and these activities.

3. Inuvialuit in Tuktoyaktuk maintain a deep, rich, knowledge of beluga developed and passed down through generations, with highly refined and region-specific techniques for hunting whales and preparing various traditional food products. This knowledge and these techniques are beginning to be affected by environmental changes, but Inuvialuit harvesters seem to be coping thus far.

4. Beluga whale continue to be culturally and nutritionally important to Inuvialuit in Tuktoyaktuk, who have extensive knowledge and important perspectives on the animal. The improved representation and inclusion of Inuvialuit TEK of this species is important for the ongoing improvement of co-management of beluga in the ISR, particularly under changing climatic conditions.

Scientific studies have produced a lot of knowledge about the Eastern Beaufort Sea beluga population that visits the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) each summer, but knowledge held by Inuvialuit who have interacted with the species for hundreds of years is not well documented.

Devin Waugh (University of Guelph) interviewed 17 active and formerly active beluga harvesters from the ISR community of Tukotyaktuk, NT, focusing on three areas of Inuvialuit knowledge of beluga: ecology and behaviour, hunting strategies, and food preparation techniques. The study found that beluga harvesters in Tuktoyaktuk have a large amount of knowledge about beluga from personal observations, and from knowledge passed down from generation to generation. They also have hunting strategies that are specifically adapted to the waters in Kugmallit Bay where beluga are usually harvested. Preparation of beluga follows specific recipes to make muktuk, mipku, and uqsuq.

The study also highlighted how beluga and beluga harvesting are still very important culturally and nutritionally to the community of Tuktoyaktuk, and that people have a deep respect for the whales. Harvesters are starting to experience changes in the environment due to climate change , such as earlier spring ice break up, and higher air temperatures in the summer. These changes are beginning to affect some harvesting activities, but harvesters have been able to deal with them so far. The results emphasize the importance of representing and including the knowledge and perspectives of Inuvialuit rightsholders alongside scientific knowledge for more equitable and effective beluga management.

Read the full paper in Arctic ScienceInuvialuit traditional ecological knowledge of beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) under changing climatic conditions in Tuktoyaktuk, NT

Corresponding author: Devin Waugh, waughd@uoguelph.ca

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