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Summary of Working Paper No. 40-1996

II.4.3: Selection of marine mammal Valued Ecosystem Components and description of impact hypotheses in the Northern Sea Route Area

By Řystein Wiig, Zoological Museum, University of Oslo, Norway; Stanislav E. Belikov and Andrei N Boltunov, All Russian Research Institute for Nature Conservation, Moscow, Russia; and, Gerald W. Garner, National Biological Service, Anchorage, Alaska,USA.

The main object of this project is to establish a database containing information on distribution, abundance, migrations and breeding and feeding areas for selected marine mammals in the Northern Sea Route area and to present a discussion of possible impacts of the activity on these species.

The project is headed by Professor Řystein Wiig, Zoological Museum, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway, while national coordinators are Professor Yasuhiko Naito, National Institute of Polar Research, Tokyo, Dr. Stanislav Belikov, All-Russian Research Institute for Nature Conservation, Moscow, and Dr. Gerald W. Garner, National Biological Service, Anchorage.

The central point in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is to identify and evaluate key impacts from possible NSR activity on the environment represented by Valued Ecosystem Components (VECs). A VEC is defined as a resource or environmental feature that: 1) is important (not only economically) to a local human

population, 2) has a national or international profile, or 3) if altered from its existing status, will be important for the evaluation of environmental impacts of industrial developments, and for the focusing of administrative efforts. The evaluation is done by defining and describing Impact Hypotheses (IHs) about how VECs are linked

to impact factors.

In the marine mammal project seven VECs were selected based on an evaluation of their relative importance: polar bear, walrus, ringed seal, bearded seal, white whale, bowhead whale and Gray whale. Fifteen IHs were evaluated. Most of them were concerned with oil pollution and the effects of noise on the selected species. One IH related to the accumulation of pollutants in the marine ecosystem was treated in common for all VECs.

Generally it was concluded that the polar bear is most vulnerable to oil pollution while the other six species are most affected by noise.