While academic accounts of gray whales feeding in summer off the west coast of Vancouver Island were first documented in 1962, local First Nations peoples have interacted with these cetaceans for centuries. The traditional knowledge gained over this time is an important component of the ecological and behavioral information base of these animals. This long history of association has also created traditions that have been long-engrained in the culture of the Ahousat people, and it is important that knowledge of this relationship be documented for both the historical and cultural benefit of the band, and also for the utility of present-day management concerns.
I will be describing a web-based interactive information system that catalogues and analyses both cultural and scientific information about resident gray whales in Ahousat First Nations territories off the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. This system incorporates the following: 1) scientific information about resident whale locations and photo-identifications from the University of Victoria Whale Research Lab since 1993, 2) mapping of whale habitat using high resolution video seabed imagery and localized core sampling, 3) statistics concerning the whale-watching industry presently working out of Tofino (the hub of tourism in the area), 4) oral histories of Ahousat elders talking about the history and cultural traditions concerning whales, and 5) documentation of whale management concerns of both the Ahousat band, and local researchers.
This management information system will be formatted as a menu-based interactive decision-support system that includes whale population assessment data in a series of spatially explicit geographic information systems (GIS) coverages, maps of habitat and whale movement patterns, remotely sensed imagery, and videos and other documentation of cultural background and management concerns. Our goal is to create a tool that can be useful as a source of scientific, cultural, educational, and management information.
The first modern accounts of gray whales along the western coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, were documented by Pike (1962). He observed that stragglers from among the groups of whales that migrate between calving areas off Baja California and the feeding grounds in the Arctic seas were seen to remain along the coast during the summer months. He surmised that these animals were not migrating, but actually remaining in protected bays and inlets. Other researchers have mentioned the presence of gray whales in this area, which has the most extensive community of ampeliscid amphipods south of the Bering Sea (Darling 1978, Duffus and Dearden 1990). Within the University of Victoria Whale Research Lab, and in association with Queen's University, researchers have been exploring the possible spatial relationships of this population of gray whales to the various types of prey in the Clayoquot Sound area (Dunham 1998, Meier in progress, Patterson in progress, Carruthers in progress).
The gray whale was first placed under partial protection from commercial whaling in 1936, and was given full protection in 1947 by the International Commission for the Regulation of Whaling (IWC) (Pike 1962, Duffus and Dearden 1990, Reeves and Leatherwood 1994). Because of this initial legislation, the rebounding eastern Pacific stock of gray whales was taken off the U.S. Endangered Species List in 1994 (Reeves and Leatherwood 1994). By 1988, the entire gray whale population numbered around 24 000 (Wade and DeMaster 1988). The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has classified the Pacific gray whale as Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent, signifying a need for a taxon-specific conservation program, without which the taxon concerned would most likely become critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable within five years (IUCN 1998). Even though the population is now considered to have returned to pre-exploitation limits (Duffus and Dearden 1990), the coastal nature of the gray whale's migration route, summer feeding, and winter calving areas traverse areas of high human activity (Duffus and Dearden 1992, Reeves and Leatherwood 1994). Activities that could potentially place the gray whale population at risk include: collisions with fishing gear and vessels, oil spills and other pollution, habitat modification, and habitat disturbance (Reeves and Leatherwood 1994).
The role of whale-watching as a potential disturbance is also an unknown factor. Papers in progress from the University of Victoria Whale Research Lab are exploring both the use of habitat by gray whales (Malcolm 1997, Tombach in progress), and the possible long and short-term effects of whale-watching (Bass in progress, Hines et al. in progress).
While the academic recording of gray whales was barely 40 years ago, the first known artifacts that evidence interactions of whale and aboriginal people in the Clayoquot Sound area was in what archeologists call the Early Period, from 2300 to 1000 B.C. (Dewhirst 1978). The ethnographers who document the relationship between the local Ahousat First Nations band and the gray whale mostly speak about the significance and procedures of actual and ritualized whaling activities, and how these practices influenced the culture and spirituality of the people. The importance of whaling as an economic and practical necessity is also discussed (Drucker 1951, Dewhirst 1978, Arima 1983, Inglis and Haggarty 1983, Arima and Dewhirst 1990, Mitchell and Reeves in press). The importance of actual and ritualized whale hunting has an indisputable place in the present cultural and spiritual life of the Ahousat people. However, the traditional ecological knowledge about whales that was developed over centuries for the sake of survival, that has also found a way into the everyday values of the Ahousat, has not been recorded, and is in danger of being lost to the people themselves (George 1998, Frank, personal communication). Present realization of this knowledge is an important factor not only for cultural health, but could play a key role in local resource management strategies (Duerden and Kuhn 1996). One of the major issues brought forth in the present treaty negotiations of the Ahousat band is the conservation of the endangered, threatened, and vulnerable wildlife off the coast of their ancestral territories (George 1998).
Researchers in the Whale Research Lab at the University of Victoria have been examining the spatial distribution of both gray whales in Clayoquot Sound and their prey (Figure 1). Meier (in progress) is mapping the habitat use of gray whales in relation to the location of their prey types. She is creating a habitat use model as a GIS series of maps of whale presence and spatial locations of prey determined by plankton tows. Tombach (in progress) is studying the demographics and site fidelity of the summer resident whales. The information from both of these studies will be gathered and put into GIS maps.
I have used high resolution SIMS mapping, aerial video, plankton tows, and benthic core samples to create a map of known gray whale feeding habitat in Cow Bay, one of the primary feeding sites of returning whales. Dunham, (1998) has found that the gray whales in Clayoquot Sound feed mostly on pelagic invertebrates which swarm seasonally in local areas. Patterson, in progress, has begun to do plankton tows in known feeding areas and depths at different times throughout the summer field season to more closely determine the prey species present. As the basis for mapping the distribution of seabed sediment, vegetation, and fauna, we have used the Seabed Imaging and Mapping System developed by Harper et al. 1997) for the Land Use Coordination Office (LUCO) (Province of British Columbia), which involves the use of a towed video camera at 100 metre transects to collect high-resolution imagery of the seabed (Figure 2) ). For further classification of tidal sediments and vegetation, I will also use aerial videos of the bay taken at lowest tides (Harper and Reimer 1995). For field testing of the mapping process, I will use sediment cores taken by Carruthers (in progress) and use plankton tows obtained by Meiers and Patterson (in progress) in Cow Bay.
Using information based on these projects, I have created a database and GIS maps of whale locations, present populations, and habitat composition and boundaries.
I have performed, with the help of local scholars (N. Turner, J. Haggarty, J. Dewhirst), a literature search of ethnographic and other documents about the importance of whales within the historical and present-day Ahousat culture. Though I have also searched these documents for ecological knowledge, there is little biological or ecological description.
With the assistance of Roman Frank of the Ahousat GIS office, we are recording video interviews with Ahousat elders discussing traditional ecological knowledge of the gray whale and the importance of the whale in Ahousat past and present culture. These interviews will be edited both for use in a LUCO-Ahousat web-based document that has been created as an archive of Ahousat history and traditions.
All coverages, images, videos and text information gathered are being spatially encoded and formatted for insertion into a LUCO-Ahousat web-based document that has already been created as an archive of Ahousat history and traditions. The resulting information system will be an invaluable resource of scientific data, cultural knowledge, and management information for the Ahousat First Nation, the Provincial Land Use Coordination Office, and the University of Victoria Whale Research Lab.
Arima, E. Y. 1983. The west coast people: The Nootka of Vancouver Island and Cape Flattery. British Columbia Provincial Museum Special Publication No. 6. 205 pp.
Arima, E. Y., and J. Dewhirst. 1990. Nootkans of Vancouver Island. In Suttles, J. (Volume Ed.) Northwest Coast, Indians of North America, Volume 7, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Pages 391-411.
Bass, A. In progress. Variations in gray whale feeding behavior and the presence of whale-watching vessels in Clayoquot Sound, 1993-1995. Ph.D. Dissertation. Department of Geography, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.
Carruthers, E. In progress. Masters Thesis, Department of Environmental Science, Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
Darling, J. D. 1978. Aspects of the behavior and ecology of Vancouver Island gray whales, Eschrichtius glaucus Cope. Master's Thesis, Department of Biology, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.
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Hines, E., Duffus, D., and A. Bass. In progress. Whale Behavior and Power Analysis: Are Gray Whales Affected by Whale-watching Vessels in Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia?
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Malcolm, C. 1997. Micro-scale spatial behaviour of a foraging gray whale in Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia, Canada. Masters Thesis, Department of Geography, University of Victoria, BC, Canada.
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Patterson, H. In progress. Masters Thesis, Department of Geography, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.
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Tombach, C. In progress. Gray whale site-fidelity in Clayoquot Sound: A multiscale approach to spatial ecology. Masters Thesis, Department of Geography, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.
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