Reconstructing the historical abundance and importance of large whales in northern British Columbia

Author(s): Szymon Surma; Tony Pitcher

Year: 2017


Whales obtained through various combinations of hunting and scavenging have long provided coastal communities worldwide with sustenance and many raw materials. However, global whale populations have been severely depleted by commercial whaling. This study combined historical abundance reconstruction with ecosystem modelling to investigate the effects of whaling on the abundances and ecological roles of five large whale species (blue, fin, sei, humpback and sperm) in northern British Columbia waters. Unexploited local whale abundances were reconstructed using population models based on recorded catches and entered into an Ecopath food web model. The changing ecological role of these whales was examined by comparing two Ecopath models representing pre-whaling and current ecosystem states. The results revealed massive changes in the absolute and relative local abundances and ecological importance of these whale species during the 20th century. Combined with habitat modelling in Ecospace, these results indicate a vastly greater availability of both live and drift whales (particularly fin and humpback) to coastal foragers prior to the depletion of whale stocks in the early 20th century. These results demonstrate the historical importance of whales in northern British Columbia, as well as the utility of linking population and ecosystem models in the study of whaling.

Cite this Record

Reconstructing the historical abundance and importance of large whales in northern British Columbia. Szymon Surma, Tony Pitcher. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430921)


Spatial Coverage

min long: -169.717; min lat: 42.553 ; max long: -122.607; max lat: 71.301 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 14543