A small pod of beluga whales was captured by ice in Chukchi Penkigngei Bay. They cannot return to the ocean and are forced to stay near several areas of free water 40 km from the open sea. The dramatic situation sparked controversy. Both the possible help to the animals and the position of non-interference in the affairs of nature are discussed. Specially for the rgo.ru, the situation was assessed by the executive secretary of the Russian Geographical Society in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Candidate of Biological Sciences Denis Litovka.
According to the scientist, who has been studying marine mammals all his life, humans have several options. It is possible to start active rescue of the animals, but it is not guaranteed that the beluga whales will appreciate these attempts properly. Another way is to place their fate in the hands of the local population, which has the legal right to hunt sea animals in the area. There are grounds for this – the corresponding quota has been allocated by the Federal Agency for Fisheries. True, the aborigines, following the code of honor, can choose not to hunt in such a situation. The Chukotka government believes that everything possible should be done to prevent the situation from getting worse. Spring may come to the aid of the belugas, which has already begun in the Arctic.
"People always have several options. The first is the position of any naturalist: observe and do nothing. It coincides with the ‘laissez-faire’, established in national parks and reserves. It does not apply to our case, since the pod is in Penkigngei Bay which is a recreational and economic zone. Sea hunters can work here and indigenous people, hunt. The second option is active rescue. Now the public believes that if 10-20 belugas die, it will be a disaster for all of humanity”, mentioned Litovka.
According to him, the captives of the bay most likely belong to the Canadian pod of belugas – one of the largest in the world. Its number reaches 40 thousand specimens.
“These 10–20 belugas will not be included in the arithmetic or statistical error. This pod is in excellent condition. On average, 166 belugas are harvested from it every year. Sometimes more, sometimes less. What are 10–20 belugas? If there were more, but how do we calculate now? " said the scientist.
Moreover, Chukotka is a unique region. This is the only place in Russia where the indigenous people are allowed to hunt sea animals. And according to the law, they have the right to consider belugas as an object of hunting.
"If we remember the traditions of the inhabitants of Chukotka – the Eskimos, the Chukchi – they are all associated with whale hunting. These natives are given a quota so that they keep their traditions associated not only with culture, but also with a protein-lipid diet followed for millennia. When they transition to a ‘Western’ diet their digestive and circulatory systems begin to ‘crumble’. They turn into the ‘walking dead’. This has long been studied and proven," the biologist explained.
However, the aborigines themselves can speak out against hunting these particular belugas. Their own code of honor and rules of life strictly regulate the hunting process.
"They must fight, go one-on-one. Whalers are the elite of Chukotka. These are the best people with great experience. Fearless. They provide not only food, but also excellent genes, teaching young people. Alpha males from a biological point of view," Litovka emphasized.
Instead of killing these belugas, the natives can take saws and axes and try to save them from the ice captivity. A similar incident happened last year, when two walruses were herded into the bay by killer whales. One of them left, and the second crawled across the ice to the village.
“I was there, the representatives of all managing organizations. The local residents were offered to take it because they had a quota. And the natives said that they would invite a veterinarian, sedate the walrus, move it out, wait until it woke up, and let it go. And so they did. They had spent a lot of time, fuel, but acted like real men," Litovka shared a touching story.
Maybe this time it will be possible to save the animals in trouble as well. Spring had already begun in this area, the scientist reminded. The average daily temperature has reached positive values, and forecasts show that there will be no severe frosts. This means that the holes will not narrow. However, it may take another one and a half or even two months until the ice is completely broken.
"Many people ask if there is enough food for the beluga whales. No one can answer this question. Ichthyologists say that there is enough food for them. Beluga whale is a universal predator. It eats everything – from Saduria entomon and shrimps to schooling and large fish," said the biologist.
The position of the local government is to prevent the deterioration of the situation as much as possible and to do everything possible for this. It is not necessary to save the belugas. Moreover, the 1990s showed that animals may not appreciate attempts at rescue and refuse to go into artificial openings pierced by an icebreaker. This was the case with a much larger pod of belugas.
"The same can happen now. Only then it was for the sake of two or three thousand, and here – because of 10-20. The difference, of course, does not matter, but the result may be the same – the icebreaker will come, but the belugas won’t go anywhere. The likelihood of this is very high," says Litovka.
According to him, people are now trying to decide for the beluga whales: whether they have enough food, whether they can hold out, whether they need to be evacuated. But for the animal this is a habitat, where it lives, gets food, mates. Beluga whale is a social animal. There is a matriarchy in the pod, and it is ruled by two or three experienced females who may not believe in "miraculous salvation."
"What if this is a trap by the two-legged? They want to lure us and eat us. They will not go anywhere and will remain," Litovka suggested.
According to the scientist, humans are again trying to dictate their will and decide for nature, forgetting that it is perfect, that there is nothing accidental in it.
“Moreover, it has been confirmed and proven many times that by trying to improve something or save someone, in most cases we do much more harm to nature,” emphasized Denis Litovka.