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Bioeconomics and the Bowhead Whale
Conrad, Jon M.
The bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) was once widely distributed across the oceans and polar seas of the northern hemisphere. It was harvested by the Eskimo and Thule Indians in present day Alaska, Canada, Russia and Greenland for many canturies before European exploration and settlement. Up until 1848 it is believes that the stock of bowheads in the western Arctic was in a relatively stationary state with the indigenous Eskimo population. In that year Captain Thomas Roys of Sag Harbor, New York navigated the whaling bark superior through the Bering Strait and discovered the western Arctic bowhead stock which supported a commercial fishery until 1914. After the departure of the Yankee whalers, the remaining stock of bowheads was once again subject to subsistence harvest by the Eskimo. In the mid-1970s the International Whaling became concerned with the increased harvest of bowheads by the Alaskan Eskimo and the increased number of whales thought to have been "struck but lost." In 1977 the scientific committee of the IWC recommended a moratorium on Eskimo harvest. The insuing controversy, which saw the U.S. Government side with the Eskimo's demand for continued harvest, led to a vast research effort to estimate (1) the bowhead population in 1848, (2) the current population, and (3) the likely effect of continued Eskimo harvest on the stock of bowheads. This paper reports new estimates of the bowhead stock during the open access period of commercial exploitation. The population of bowheads in 1848 is estimated to have been between 11 and 18 thousand. by 1914 the stock had probably been reduced to between 1,000 and 3,500 adult dynamic evolution of the resource and industry for the years 1848-1914. The current management controversy is formulated as a dynamic optimization problem where Eskimo welfare is assumed linear in stock and kill. Steady-state optimal escapement will depend on the relative weight assigned to the bowhead stock, the rate of time preference (discount) and parameters of the delayed-difference equation describing population dynamics. Optimal stock ranged from approximately 4,000 to 13,500 whales with kill ranging from 40 to 145 whales per year.
Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University