Beluga Whale and Spotted Seal Use of a Coastal Lagoon System in the Northeastern Chukchi Sea
Aerial surveys were conducted in the northeastern Chukchi Sea during 1989-91 to investigate the distribution and abundance of beluga whales and spotted seals. Emphasis was on the 170 km long Kasegaluk Lagoon, which was known to be regularly used by both species during the open-water season. Belugas were seen on every survey during 3-14 July 1990 and 4-16 July 1991, with numbers ranging from 7 to 1212. Data from other years indicate that whales sometimes arrive as early as 22 June and leave the area by late July. The presence of nearshore gravel beds and warm, low-salinity water probably combine to make this region important as a place for belugas to molt. Spotted seals occur in the area from mid-July through early November. They haul out on particular spits and shoals near Utukok Pass, Akoliakatat Pass, and Avak Inlet. Numbers counted were variable but exceeded 1000 on many days in July, August, and September. Telemetry data suggest that the maximum count of about 2200 represents only a small portion of the total number of seals frequenting Kasegaluk Lagoon. Comparisons with data from previous years suggest that the numbers of belugas and spotted seals using the area have been relatively stable since the late 1970s. Activities associated with oil, gas, coal, and mineral resource development should be regulated to minimize their potential impacts on important beluga and spotted seal habitats.
Key words: beluga whale, Delphinapterus leucas, spotted seal, Phoca largha, Chukchi Sea, Kasegaluk Lagoon, distribution, abundance