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FW: Suffering Beluga Opens Hidden Debate

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  • Pete Cohon
    From: Juli Kaiss To: AR-news Date: June 4, 2007 Subject: Suffering Beluga Opens Hidden Debate AOL New, June 2nd, 07 Suffering Beluga Opens Hidden Debate By BOB
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 4, 2007
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      From: Juli Kaiss

      To: AR-news

      Date: June 4, 2007

      Subject: Suffering Beluga Opens Hidden Debate

      AOL New, June 2nd, 07

      Suffering Beluga Opens Hidden Debate

      By BOB WEBER, Canadian Press(CP) -

      It was the pictures - the injured, undernourished beluga whale still
      dragging around the satellite transmitter laced under its skin - that
      finally tore the issue open. The sight of the suffering animal prompted
      protests from the Qikiqtaaluk Wildlife Board, a group of Inuit hunters who
      help manage wildlife in their area of Nunavut, that could change how
      research is conducted in the North. "The QWB board was appalled at the
      photos presented and discussed at length the inappropriateness of this
      method of data collection," wrote board member Jayko Alooloo last December.
      The board, which approves permits for biologists working in the Arctic,
      resolved that less invasive research methods must be found. It promised to
      monitor future research to ensure no more animals were subjected to such
      "horrifying treatment. "For decades, Arctic scientists have depended on
      radio collars and tranquillizer darts to help them understand the lives and
      movements of animals from beluga whales to tundra swans to polar bears. But
      after the board's resolution, the future of those research mainstays is now
      subject to ongoing talks between federal officials and unhappy Inuit
      wildlife monitors. Some Inuit circulate stories of dead Canada geese or even
      polar bears found wearing radio transmitters that might have caused their
      demise. Some are concerned about chemical residues left from tranquillizers
      used on food species such as caribou.

      And some just think bothering animals is wrong." Traditionally, it was
      Inuit belief that wild animals should not be handled unnecessarily," says
      Joe Tigullaraq, head of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board. "It's just
      not considered proper to handle wildlife when you are not intending to
      harvest them for food. "Tigullaraq and Alooloo understand that research is
      crucial to wildlife decision-making. But both want better alternatives.
      "With today's technology, surely we can find a better way to put on radio
      transmitters," Tigullaraq said.Alooloo says scientists should rely more on
      direct observation, using snowmobiles or even dog teams to track and watch
      animals. Jack Orr, a beluga and narwhal researcher with the Department of
      Fisheries and Oceans, has some sympathy for their position. "It's not
      always a pretty sight when you see a caribou that's worn a tag for two years
      and there's no hair on its neck," he says. Although transmitters have
      improved, they still have to be big enough to hold the circuitry and a power
      source, and tough enough, in the narwhal's case, to withstand up to two
      years of freezing cold and deep-water dives. But transmitters, which can
      beam data to a satellite on an hourly basis, are often the best and
      sometimes the only way to study animals that spend much of their lives
      underneath sea ice or roaming trackless tundra. "It's like being a fly on
      the wall," Orr says. "These tags provide invaluable information when they're
      in their happy place away from human contact. "As climate change and
      industrial development forever alter the North, Orr says gone are the days
      when an Inuit community need only rely on the accumulated wisdom of its
      hunters to assess the health of its animals. "That lifestyle they had, that
      intimacy with the animals, is changing. "David Hik, an Arctic biologist at
      the University of Alberta and director of Canada's efforts toward
      International Polar Year, says researchers are increasingly focused on
      co-operation with the human inhabitants of the habitats they study. "If
      we're successful in managing wildlife populations, it'll be in co-operation
      with northern people," he says. "We need to ensure they are part of the
      studies that are acquiring that information. "It's now routine for
      scientists to get the approval of local people when studying nearby animals,
      Hik says. Occasionally, scientists are refused permission to handle or tag
      animals and must redesign their research.

      Fisheries and Oceans officials and Inuit representatives held a series of
      workshops on the issue earlier this spring. More are planned. Tigullarak
      says he knows that "putting gadgets on animals" is in the North to stay and
      is sometimes necessary. He just wants it kept to a minimum, using tools that
      are as unobtrusive as possible. But Alooloo, still offended at the thought
      of the suffering narwhal, won't be happy until he says sees major changes to
      the way biologists treat the animals they study. "We don't want to see our
      hunting animals with a big collar on."


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