The beluga, or white whale, (Delphinapterus leucas), a medium-sized toothed whale with a circumpolar distribution, is of great importance to many Arctic communities. Just 150 years ago, Brown (1868) noted that the beluga ‘…is, beyond all comparison, so far as its importance to the Greenlanders and the Eskimo is concerned, the Whale of Greenland.’ Belugas have been hunted for centuries by Inuit families travelling the Arctic coastline, they were also subject to commercial hunting of variable intensity in Canada, Greenland, Svalbard and Russia, and they are still a very important species for Arctic subsistence hunters in Greenland, Canada and Alaska.
The background for the compilation of the present monograph is the ongoing assessment of belugas in the North Atlantic, started by the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission in 1999 (NAMMCO 2000, 2001, 2002). Most of the information presented in this volume has been presented at scientific working group meetings within NAMMCO and the Canada/Greenland Joint Commission on Conservation and Management of Narwhal and Beluga (JCNB). The information from these meetings is both of general interest to scientists dealing with Arctic wildlife and of value for future scientific assessments of beluga stocks. As a consequence it was decided that the information should be compiled as a volume in the series of Scientific Publications from NAMMCO. There has been special concern in both NAMMCO and JCNB about the conservation status of beluga that winter off West Greenland, and this is reflected in the subject matter of the compilation. However the volume is gratifyingly broad in scope, covering beluga populations from the St. Lawrence River in southern Canada to the Russian eastern Arctic, Information on the two other Arctic cetaceans, the narwhal (Monodon monoceros) and the bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus), often are by-products of studies specifically targeting belugas, so some information on these species is included in the volume as well.
NAMMCO is particularly pleased to have brought to realisation a volume dedicated to the memory of our friend and colleague, Stuart Innes. The efforts of his colleagues in bringing his final works to publication are a tribute to his contributions in this field.
This volume is edited by Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen, Research Scientist with the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, and Øystein Wiig, Professor in Mammalogy at the Zoological Museum of the University of Oslo.