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Sun’aq Tribe receives grant to improve marine mammal response

Marine mammals frequently haul out near Kodiak’s ports, like these Steller sea lions on the floating dock by the St. Herman Harbor, or Dog Bay.
Marine mammals frequently haul out near Kodiak’s ports, like these Steller sea lions on the floating dock by the St. Herman Harbor, or Dog Bay.

When marine mammals are reported dead or injured around Kodiak, the Sun’aq Tribe’s natural resources department is on the scene.

The team has disentangled sea lions and even organized necropsies, or animal autopsies, on humpback, fin, and Cuvier’s beaked whales that washed up on local beaches in just the last year.

Matt Van Daele, the Tribe’s natural resources director, said medical equipment for animals is …expensive.

“Prices of the tranquilizer that we use – they go up all the time,” he said. “You think human pharmaceuticals are bad, veterinary ones are just through the roof.”

But now the department has secured $117,000 from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to improve its ability to respond to these kinds of incidents.

The funding opens a plethora of opportunities for the Tribe, from buying supplies like tranquilizers to increasing monitoring projects and finding training opportunities.

Van Daele said it’s expensive to get experts who know how to use equipment properly to the island. For instance, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration brought in an expert from Hawaii to disentangle a whale near Unalaska about a month ago.

“Training for that, you need supplies for that, bringing the disentanglement experts from Hawaii up here to give us more training,” he said.

Van Daele said that’s just as likely to happen in Kodiak and it’s important they’re prepared when it does.

He said he’s also hoping to use the funds to locally monitor highly pathogenic avian influenza, now that it’s been shown to infect marine mammals.

“It’s only a matter of time before things like that show up here,” Van Daele said.

At least one Kodiak bear was found with a strain of avian influenza in late 2022.

Van Daele said other plans include a flight to survey coastlines and look for marine mammals this month.

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