In the far west of Arctic Alaska lies Kasegaluk Lagoon, one of the largest, undiminished coastal lagoon systems in the world, spanning approximately 125 miles of the Chukchi Sea coast. This sheltered, shallow lagoon is important habitat for calving and molting beluga whales. Hundreds of spotted seals and walrus haul out along the barrier islands, also a frequent denning destination for polar bears.
Kasegaluk Lagoon also supports the highest abundance of diversity of bird life of all of Arctic Alaska’s coastal lagoons. As many as half of the world’s Pacific black brant descend in late August or early September before beginning their journey to wintering grounds in Baja Mexico. Both sexes are identical in plumage – dark with white necklaces – except that the male’s white necklace is larger than the female’s. Spectacled eiders nest on the mainland, while Pacific loons seek out inland lakes, nest on tiny ponds and fish in the lagoon itself. The loons are awkward on land and require 30-50 meters of open water to take flight!
VISIT MORE: Peard Bay | Colville River | Kasegaluk Lagoon| Teshepuk Lake | Utukok River Uplands
PEOPLE AND THE REGION
Kasegaluk Lagoon has been a valuable subsistence resource for the Alaska Native residents of Alaska’s North Slope for thousands of years. In the Inupiaq language, “kasegaluk” means “spotted seal place,” reflecting the historic abundance of marine mammal life in the lagoon and its barrier islands. Alaska Natives that live in the area continue to honor the traditional subsistence lifestyle; residents still depend on the health of the coastal region for their food supply, and Kasegaluk Lagoon plays a vital role.
Beluga Whale: With its unmistakable all-white color and the absence of a dorsal fin, the beluga whale is uniquely adapted to life in the Arctic, having the greatest percentage of blubber of any whale species;
Length: Males, 11-18 feet long/Females, 10-13.5 feet long;
Weight: Males 2,400-3,500 lbs/Females 1,500-2,600 lbs;
Fun Fact: The white color of beluga whales allow them to camouflage themselves in the polar ice caps as protection against polar bears and killer whales.
One of the largest threats to the Kasegaluk Lagoon Special Area is potential energy development in the Arctic Ocean – there is currently no prohibition against developing an infrastructure corridor, such as a pipeline, to transport oil from offshore drilling through Kasegaluk Lagoon and into Alaska’s interior or across northern Alaska to facilities at Prudhoe Bay.
Climate change is also having a profound effect on the region – rising temperatures and the disappearance of sea ice is causing more and more marine mammals, such as seals and walrus, to haul-out on the mainland resulting in greater vulnerability to predators and hunters. In addition, melting permafrost is removing a critical buffer between coastlines and the impact of ocean waves. As permafrost disappears, coastal erosion could become significant, destroying wildlife habitat and nesting areas, and disrupting the traditional knowledge of local populations relied upon for hunting and subsistence.