Arkhangelsk hosts roundtable on marine mammals of the Arctic

Arkhangelsk hosts roundtable on marine mammals of the Arctic

22 May 2023

On 12 May, Arkhangelsk hosted a roundtable, Marine Mammals of the Arctic, as part of the Conference on Bioresources and Fisheries in the Arctic.


Vyacheslav Bizikov, deputy director for research at the Russian Federal Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO), noted that marine mammals play a crucial role in Arctic ecosystems. As consumers of higher trophic levels, they are sensitive to the state of ecosystems they are embedded in and can serve as indicators of environmental health.


“In the 21st century, the populations of many marine mammal species, judging by their frequency of occurrence, began to increase, which seems to be related primarily to the current whaling moratorium established by the International Whaling Commission, as well as the cessation of hunting for most pinniped species in the Arctic seas. Global climate change, particularly in the Arctic, has an equally important role in changing the size of marine mammal populations,” Bizikov said.


Vladimir Zabavnikov, head of the Marine Mammals Department at the Polar Branch of the Knipovich VNIRO, in turn, recalled that the following cetacean species inhabit the waters of the Barents Sea in Russia: the white-beaked dolphin, minke whale, humpback whale, harbour porpoise, killer whale, white whale, bowhead whale and narwhal.


“It should be noted that information on marine mammals obtained in the Russian zone of the Barents Sea is used for environmental monitoring, in ecological modelling when assessing the impact on food supply, primarily fish, as well as when forecasting the status of commercial marine mammal stocks,” he said.


The roundtable participants noted that mammal harvesting in the Arctic is one of the traditional trades and an important branch of human economic activity.


According to Lev Sidorov, head of the Marine Mammal Department at VNIRO, sustainable use of aquatic biological resources and the revival of traditional marine mammal harvesting in the European North of the Russian Federation appears to be a serious factor in maintaining employment and living standards, reducing social tensions and maintaining the sustainable balance of marine ecosystems.


Roman Batanov, head of research on biological resources of inland waters and waters adjacent to Chukotka at the Pacific Branch of VNIRO, said that the traditional hunting of sea mammals is an integral part of the existence of the indigenous population, in terms of both physical survival and cultural continuity, and defines the identity of the peoples of the Extreme North.


The development of recreational tourism, oceanariums and dolphinariums, most intense in the first decade of the 2000s, led to a greater demand for quotas to catch marine mammals for cultural and educational purposes, he said.


“Such catches were carried out in relation to white whales – we caught 75 of them; harbour seals and orcas were caught in a piecemeal manner,” said Roman Batanov.


At the same time, the roundtable participants noted the need to clarify and update the regulatory and legal framework for marine mammal hunting.


“There is a need for science-based regulation of the mammal population in the Arctic, and first and foremost, in commercial areas. It is also necessary to pay special attention to the by-catch in fishing activities because to some extent one can even speak about a certain conflict between fishing and marine mammals. On the one hand, they are competitors to fishing, but on the other hand, they can also be victims of fishing. This issue requires special attention,” stated Vladimir Zabavnikov.


Roman Batanov explained that the follow factors describe the impact of the sea shelf condition on marine mammals: the depletion of the food supply for marine mammals; the accumulation of toxins in their organs and tissues; the effect of solutions and sludge; the increase of polychlorinated vinyl in tissues; oil spills; and more frequent navigation in the Arctic.