Exploitation of ringed seals (Phoca hispida) in Greenland
The ringed seal (Phoca hispida) is the most important game for the Inuit hunters of Greenland, providing many of the basic needs in the original culture. It is distributed all around Greenland with the main distribution north of 69°N on the west coast and north of 66°N on the east coast.
During 1974-76, studies were conducted in the most important ringed seal catching area, Upernavik, Northwest Greenland, and a total of 7,089 ringed seals were sampled. The methods used for catching ringed seals were categorised into five different groups. The most common hunting method used in the municipality of Upernavik during 1974-76 was netting under the ice, accounting for almost half of the total annual catch. Seals shot on the ice and seals shot at the ice edge accounted for one fifth and one tenth of the annual catch, respectively. In this region seals shot in open water made up about one fifth of the annual catch of ringed seals, while netting in open water contributed only a few percent.
Of the seals sampled in Upernavik in 1974-76, 60% were males and 40% were females. In the ringed seal samples collected all around Greenland in the 1980s and 1990s the males comprised 56% and the females 44% (n=923). Similar ratios were found for all age classes and for all hunting methods suggesting either a skewed sex ratio in the ringed seal stock(s) around Greenland or a difference
in availability to the hunters of male and female ringed seals. In tagging experiments a higher mobility was found for females than for males, which suggests differences in the behaviour of the two sexes.
Catch and trade statistics on ringed seals are reviewed and evaluated for the period of 1954 until 1994, and the seasonal and regional variation is examined. The peak season for ringed seal hunting in Greenland as a whole is from January through May. This is particularly evident for the northern regions, where relatively few ringed seals are taken during the open water season from June to September. In the southern regions, however, the great majority of ringed seals are caught in open
In all regions, the catch of ringed seals showed great annual and long-term variation. The variations were not identical in all regions, but similar trends were found for Northwest and Central West, and for Southwest and South. From 1954 to 1994 there was a general, significant increase in the reported catches of ringed seals in west Greenland. For Greenland overall, the catch of ringed seals was
around 43,000 per year in the 1950s, peaked in the late 1970s at almost 100,000 per year, but since decreased to about 70,000 in the early 1990s.
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