Protecting The Humpback Whales
Saving the whales was one of the popular causes of the new environmentalism of the 1960s and 1970s. Not only did this animal's immense size, grace, and mysteriousness excite the public imagination, but the calamitous effects of international whaling on whale populations awakened people to the human species' devastation of the world's oceans. Television documentaries, picture books, and other widely disseminated fruits of the fast-growing science of marine biology made the great whale a very sympathetic animal and a symbol of imperiled nature.
Humpback whales received a large play in the growing amount of travel literature on Glacier Bay and southeast Alaska. With their spectacular habit of bursting into the air in a half- or full-bodied "breach," and their unusual pattern of lifting their flukes out of the water before each dive, these animals made superb photographic subjects in the Glacier Bay setting. For thousands of visitors to Glacier Bay each year, humpback whale sightings ranked as the high point of their experience, and for thousands of others who read wistfully of Glacier Bay in travel magazines or promotional brochures, the humpback whales made a particularly alluring picture.
Public concern about the humpback whale altered the meaning of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in the 1980s, much as public concern about the Alaska brown bear had reshaped the monument forty years earlier. It focused public attention on the marine area of the park and ultimately broadened the conception of the park's wilderness character to include marine waters. As soon as marine vessel traffic increased to a point where it jeopardized the whales, vessel management became a central problem of park administration. Vessel management, in turn, highlighted other needs of this marine area, including designation of wilderness waters, a general management plan for the park, and reconsideration of the Park Service's longstanding policy of toleration toward commercial fishing in Glacier Bay. By then, a writer for the popular magazine Alaska could state approvingly that the Park Service's myriad boat regulations, most of them still tied to whale protection, were all "part of the effort to keep Glacier Bay a wilderness park while accommodating an increasing number of visitors." 
Personnel at Bartlett Cove and others who were familiar with Glacier Bay perceived as early as 1975 that the seasonal migration of humpback whales to Glacier Bay was declining.  This was a serious concern. Humpback whales had been observed in Glacier Bay since the nineteenth century. The number of humpback whales in the North Pacific Ocean had declined from an estimated 15,000 in 1905 to perhaps 1,000 in 1966, when the International Whaling Commission declared a moratorium on harvesting. The humpback whale was listed as an endangered species in 1969.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 recognized the aesthetic value of marine mammals, including the humpback whale, and required federal agencies to manage marine mammals with the primary objective being "to maintain the health and stability of the marine ecosystem." If the carrying capacity of the habitat allowed, "it should be the goal to obtain an optimum sustainable population." The act prohibited the taking of any marine mammals, and defined the term "take" as "to harass, hunt, capture, or kill" --which made the effects of sightseeing boats on whale behavior a legal as well as moral issue for NPS officials. Although the population of humpback whales summering in Glacier Bay was never large, the bay was thought to be an important feeding area for the North Pacific herd of humpback whales, and further, they were a well-publicized tourist attraction. A briefing statement prepared for the Park Service's Washington office explained that the humpback whales represented "a significant and unique quality in Glacier Bay, the only unit in the National Park System in which they occur." 
Although the Park Service's files contained numerous references to humpback whale sightings over the years, no census of the animal had ever been taken. Indeed, the information on humpback whales in all of southeast Alaska was very scant. Streveler showed keen interest, therefore, when amateur cetologist Charles Jurasz contacted him at Bartlett Cove in 1975 and shared his insights from nearly ten years of whale-watching in southeast Alaska. A Juneau high school biology teacher, Jurasz had logged thousands of hours observing and photographing humpback whales with his family aboard their 50-foot, wooden vessel Ginjur, which he had specially equipped with a navy exhaust silencer and rubber housing around the shaft and propeller. Since 1973, Jurasz had been structuring his family's whale-watching around the compilation of data that would illuminate how whales responded to vessels. The data consisted of photoidentification of more than two dozen individuals based on the unique white markings on their flukes (an innovation that was soon adopted by other scientists), with accompanying "breath logs" that recorded intervals in each whale's breathing and its location relative to an encounter with a vessel. It was Jurasz's belief that vessel traffic disrupted whales' feeding behavior. Jurasz proposed a more detailed Glacier Bay whale study to test his hypothesis. 
Streveler saw in Jurasz's proposal an opportunity to gain valuable data for NPS management with a modest outlay of funds. He got the amateur cetologist together with regional biologist Don Field, and was pleased when Field agreed to match whatever research funds Streveler wanted to use from his own operating budget to support Jurasz's work. Streveler felt that Field had gotten "an impressive display of Jurasz's intensity, intelligence, and love of Glacier Bay." In 1976, the Park Service contracted with Jurasz's new company, Sea Search, Ltd. to research the feeding habits of Glacier Bay's humpback whales. 
In the middle of 1977, Streveler received an initial written report from Charles and Virginia Jurasz, which he found "very marginal." But he excused this effort on the grounds that the Juraszes had decided "to emphasize extension of their perceptions at this point in their research," rather than organize their data. Jurasz showed an uncanny ability to predict whale behavior. He was now theorizing that whales established territories around where they fed, and displayed an escalating scale of behaviors to warn away competitors--from vocalization to the full-bodied breach out of the water that gave spectators such a thrill. In his view, humpback whales reacted to vessels in much the same way that they responded to other whales--as potential competitors in their feeding areas. He called these observed behaviors "whale-vessel interactions." The danger, Jurasz believed, was that vessels were disrupting the humpback whales' feeding; the whales were exercising themselves to warn away sightseeing vessels from their feeding areas, only to attract them instead. Streveler extended the contract and report deadline for another year, directing the Juraszes to focus now on whale-vessel interactions. "I remain convinced that the Jurasz' [sic] are the most knowledgable people on S.E. Alaska humpback whales," Streveler wrote. "Given our great need to understand whale ecology and behavior in relation to Monument visitation, it seems justifiable to yield to the Jurasz' honestly held, if somewhat unusual, approach to their contract and to science." 
Jurasz found that what he called "whale-vessel interactions" were increasing even faster than the year-to-year increase in the number of cruises. Whereas the latter grew from 113 in 1975 to 123 in 1976 to 142 in 1977, whale-vessel interactions jumped by 56 percent in 1976 and a further 61 percent in 1977. In July 1978, Jurasz told Streveler that vessel traffic had become so heavy it was masking the underwater sounds made by whales. On July 16, he recorded the highest number of whale-vessel interactions he had ever witnessed in a single day, and radioed to Streveler that he thought the whales would likely abandon the bay within twenty-four hours. On July 17 and 18 rangers assisted the Juraszes in censusing the whales, and were able to find only three from a previous population of nineteen. Later, the Juraszes found that several of these individuals had moved to Frederick Sound. 
Streveler was deeply concerned that increased boat traffic might have driven out the humpback whales for good. Not only was Streveler disturbed by the grim prospect that the national monument--of all places--might become unlivable for this endangered species, but Jurasz had suggested that Glacier Bay might be critical habitat, perhaps being the preferred feeding area for females with calves among the southeast Alaska population. In the summer of 1978 Streveler requested the Juraszes' acoustical data, thinking that it might be useful for developing some enforcable regulation to keep boats a certain distance from whales that were feeding in the bay. When the Juraszes' raw data proved to be unmanageable, Streveler contracted with Sea Search to produce a monitoring and ranger instruction program for the Park Service over the winter of 1978-79. Meanwhile, Streveler pushed Jurasz for a draft report to assist him in making management recommendations for the 1979 tourist season. 
The report was a disappointment; in fact, it promptly became an embarrassment to the Park Service and a weapon for the cruise ship industry in challenging the agency's efforts to regulate vessel traffic in Glacier Bay. Having had no previous experience in the preparation of a scientific report, the Juraszes were simply unable to perform a sound statistical analysis of their complex and voluminous data, much less effectively express their findings in writing. The draft final report (June 1979) was 159 pages of rambling discourse punctuated by faulty statistical tables; after revisions (November 1980) it grew to 206 pages plus a 66-page supplement. A National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) reviewer commented, "From any point of view, this is not a very adequate product," and a biologist with the Marine Mammal Commission (MMC) stated, "The report as it stands now would most likely not withstand close scientific scrutiny or critical review."  After much wrangling with Jurasz over ownership of data and payment for services, the NPS finally cancelled its contract with Sea Search, Ltd., in 1981. While the data were eventually subjected to analysis by Dr. Frederick Dean of the Cooperative Park Studies Unit in Fairbanks, the results (completed in 1982) were inconclusive and largely superseded by three separate scientific studies of the humpback whale's feeding habits, its behavior, and the underwater acoustical properties of Glacier Bay, all funded by vastly bigger sums than were available in the 1970s. Substantively, all of this subsequent research would neither prove nor disprove Jurasz's central findings and its results would be inconclusive for management.
With hindsight, people in the Park Service would hold different opinions about the study by Jurasz. Some would argue that the NPS got itself out on a limb with an unqualified expert and a flawed contract, or worse, erred with bad science; others would insist that Jurasz's work did what it needed to do by shaking down a shower of money for more professional research. They would agree, at least, that the Jurasz study had grown out of a research environment that was woefully short of funds. 
From Park Service personnel to concessioners, journalists, Alaska politicians, and environmentalists, many people thought the Park Service lost control of the Glacier Bay humpback whale problem in 1979-80. One environmentalist newsletter summed up the widespread perception with the headline, "Park Service Is In Over Its Head In Glacier Bay."  Reflecting their diverse points of view, people offered many explanations for the agency's credibility gap in the early 1980s: an institutional insensitivity by the Park Service to marine environmental problems, a flawed basis for action in the Jurasz research, failed leadership by the superintendent, too rapid growth in the amount of visitor use, unbridled influence of the park concessioner and the cruise ship lobby, and the inevitable backlash from enactment of ANILCA, which greatly enlarged the Park Service's presence in Alaska. Certainly there was some truth in all of these assertions.
By the late 1970s, there were several signs of strain from increasing visitor use. Visitation grew by 66 percent in four years, from 58,280 in 1976 to 96,151 in 1980. While cruise ship passengers accounted for most of the increase, there were more lodge visitors, small boat users, and commercial fishermen in the monument, too.  Superintendent J. Thomas Ritter told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce at the beginning of the 1978 tourist season that growing visitor use was his "prime concern." There was a need for new accommodations in addition to Glacier Bay Lodge, but first the Park Service had to expand the water supply at Bartlett Cove. More public docks were in demand, and the Park Service had to improve its boater safety program. Increasing backcountry use was wearing out certain campsites. Cruise ships were polluting the air with their funnel emissions, and possibly troubling the humpback whale population. 
The Park Service convened the first annual meeting with representatives of the cruise ship industry at the regional office in Seattle in April 1977. Among the items on the agenda were "precautions" (not regulations) that the cruise ship companies must accept in order to comply with the Marine Mammal Protection Act and avoid harassment of marine mammals. The discussion revolved around whales, porpoises, seals, avoidance of seal pupping areas, noise pollution caused by steamship whistles, garbage disposal, and stack emissions. Jurasz's preliminary findings caused the cruise ship companies some concern, especially when some of his material appeared in a television documentary that aired in 1977, but Park Service officials stressed that Jurasz's study was not yet complete. A briefing statement on the whale issue prepared for the Washington office stated, "We strongly recommend that the final report and findings from the researcher be awaited before drawing conclusions or attempting remedial action." 
It was in this clouded context, with vessel traffic strongly implicated in the sudden departure of the humpback whales from Glacier Bay in July 1978, that Superintendent Ritter and Regional Director John Rutter made a dubious decision. They agreed in principle to the introduction of an overnight tour boat by the concessioner as a means of accommodating the overflow demand for lodging. Their decision was reaffirmed, with "no hint of controversy," in a meeting in Seattle on January 16, 1979.  Not only was the boat's effect on the whales in doubt, but the boat's design, and hence its effect on visitors' experience, was left up to the concessioner. Robert Giersdorf, the principal owner of Glacier Bay Lodge, Inc., unveiled his new vessel the following March, to the dismay of many on the Glacier Bay staff and other concerned citizens who had heard nothing about it beforehand. Able to sleep 64 passengers in 32 staterooms, equipped with a bar and live music, the 120-foot Glacier Bay Explorer amounted to a backcountry resort, "a sort of floating addition to the famed lodge," reported the Seattle Times. Unlike the cruise ships, Glacier Bay Explorer would disembark passengers at points in the proposed wilderness area and would anchor for the night far up the bay in Reid Inlet. Although there was concern that overnight passengers would strain the capacity of dining and laundry facilities in Bartlett Cove and trample the delicate vegetation wherever they were put ashore up the bay, the Park Service had not required an environmental impact statement. Moreover, when Glacier Bay Explorer made her first appearance in Glacier Bay in June 1979, it became evident that the vessel was significantly louder than the two day-tour concession boats. 
Opponents of Glacier Bay Explorer did not know who to hold accountable for it, nor who they could trust to remedy the situation. Ritter transferred to Voyageurs National Park in January 1979. Donald D. Chase was appointed acting superintendent until the arrival of a new superintendent. As for John Rutter and the regional office in Seattle, their involvement with Alaska parks diminished as the Alaska field office became a full-fledged regional office in 1980, with John E. Cook directing. Cook had such a large task in setting up several new park administrations under ANILCA that he could illafford to review the decision on the Glacier Bay Explorer.
Cook, formerly director of the Southwest Region, selected John F. Chapman, superintendent of the small Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico, to fill the position at Glacier Bay. A journalist by background, Chapman wrote voluminously and generally treated his time in the field as recreation. He did not inspire confidence in his staff, particularly in the old hands who had been around since Howe's tenure. He was no boatman, and the personnel he brought with him from the Southwest were mockingly called "the desert rats" by more seasoned members of the staff. 
Almost from the day he arrived, Chapman was caught between the advice of his staff, who wanted tough protective measures to cope with increasing visitor use, and the advice of Cook and others who urged a "get along" policy while Alaskans adjusted to the new land management regime promulgated by ANILCA. In May 1979, Chapman announced that the Park Service would require all vessel operators to limit their speed to 10 knots and a steady RPM while in designated "whale waters" in Glacier Bay, and to approach no closer than 1/4 mile from any whale. But at this late date the NPS would not control the total number of vessels entering the bay, as this might involve turning ships away whose passengers had planned and paid to see Glacier Bay. These restrictions were in fact the mildest of five management options outlined by Streveler. 
Chapman soon faced a crisis when the humpback whales arrived in southeast Alaska waters only to shun Glacier Bay itself. According to Jurasz, the whales normally entered the bay during two "influxes," which coincided with extreme high tides and strong tidal currents. (This idea was later discredited.) Few whales appeared during the anticipated first influx in June, and by mid-July the anticipated second influx was proving an even greater disappointment. Chapman consulted both the regional and Washington offices about a possible ten-day emergency closure of the bay while the humpbacks established "residence." On their advice he inquired with Dr. George Harry of the National Marine Fisheries Service about the need for a consultation under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. 
Immediately following this telephone call, on July 16, 1979, Chapman held a conference call with John Cook, Doug Warnock, Bob Peterson, and Jim Larson in Anchorage and Boyd Evison, Roland Wauer, and John Dennis in Washington, D.C. They discussed the political and economic consequences of an immediate emergency closure or a threatened closure the following year, and the risks of taking no action. Warnock posed the question: what if the NPS took action and still no humpback whales appeared in the bay? Larson wondered: if the whales went away, how hard would it be to get them back? Wauer thought the NPS would be negligent not to do something. They discussed the legal procedures for voluntary or forced compliance with vessel restrictions. What if cruise ship companies refused to comply? What credibility would the NPS have in its jurisdictional dispute over Glacier Bay with the state of Alaska if it didn't assert its jurisdiction now? At the end of the conference call Cook directed Chapman to seek voluntary changes in the cruise ship paths for the time being and to formalize his request with Dr. Harry for a Section 7 consultation. Clearly uneasy with the situation he now faced, Chapman scribbled at the bottom of his notes, "No data on feeding, Bay carrying capacity, other biological considerations. Can't eliminate other possible explanations. Data no good." 
On the morning of July 18, 1979, rangers reported that the few whales in Glacier Bay had evidently departed, as they had exactly one year earlier to the day. Chapman telephoned the Marine Mammal Commission's office in Juneau, which promptly dispatched its biologist in Sitka, Andrew R. Gifford, to the scene. Arriving at headquarters in Bartlett Cove just after noon, Gifford was "immediately engulfed in a very serious and intense meeting." There were remarks that the unusually loud Glacier Bay Explorer had produced strong reactions from certain whales, and there were estimates that nine out of ten whales observed in the Bartlett Cove area that summer had had some form of conflict with a vessel. 
With the humpback whales now absent from the bay, the controversy continued to escalate. The acerbic environmental group Greenpeace Alaska informed Chapman by letter that it was prepared to alert all Greenpeace offices, demand closure of the bay, and attempt to get a restraining order against the cruise ship companies. The Alaska Visitors Association warned that an "arbitrary closure of the monument" without further study would seriously harm Alaska tourism. The president of Princess Cruises conveyed a similar sentiment, and looking ahead to the 1980 season he said that his company had already produced half a million brochures featuring Glacier Bay, and if the monument were closed for two ten-day periods "there would be a tremendous softness in sales for those sailings." The most withering attack came from Robert Giersdorf, who publicly accused the Park Service of manipulating media coverage to the detriment of the cruise ship industry with unfounded and inflammatory words like "abandonment," "failure," and "alarming departure." Giersdorf had consulted other whale biologists who believed fluctuations in the abundance of feed could explain the whales' movements. He rebuked Chapman for undermining the "cooperative spirit and dialogue" between the Park Service and the cruise ship industry that Superintendent Ritter had nurtured. 
Yet another blow to the Park Service's credibility was struck when a group of Gustavus residents, led by retired former superintendent Howe, formed Friends of Glacier Bay. They were prompted by fears that corporate interests were "beginning to dictate the future of the Monument."  An unstated but widely shared view was that both former superintendent Ritter and Chapman, in contrast with Howe, regarded their post at Glacier Bay as a mere stepping stone and did not have the long-term interests of the place at heart. At its first meeting that summer, Friends of Glacier Bay passed a resolution exhorting the Park Service to place tougher restrictions on vessel traffic. The group quickly attracted members from as far away as Fairbanks and Anchorage.
In September, a management review of Glacier Bay National Monument found a rift between the seasonal and permanent staff, with seasonal rangers and naturalists (many of whom had worked in Glacier Bay for several summer seasons) taking the position that higher echelon Park Service officials were selling out the Park Service mission in order to advance their careers. 
That winter, as Chapman approached the task of drafting whale management regulations that would be sufficient, enforceable, and reasonably satisfactory to everyone concerned, he found himself working from a very narrow base of support.
As soon as Chapman floated the idea of closing Glacier Bay to vessels during certain critical phases of the summer whale migration, it was clear that the cruise ship industry stood to lose millions of dollars in the effort to stabilize the monument's humpback whale population. And since Glacier Bay was the featured destination on most southeast Alaska cruises, the industry contended that its closure would have a ripple effect, lowering tourism revenues for communities like Sitka and Ketchikan.  Giersdorf and other tourist industry executives insisted that they had as much interest in preserving the whales as the Park Service did, but they disputed whether whale-vessel interactions were really a problem. The whales' search for food might be the real cause of their movement out of the bay.
Tourist industry executives suggested, in effect, that the problem of whale management should be resolved by science, and proper scientific method involved testing alternative hypotheses before drawing any conclusions. The Park Service would be irresponsible, therefore, to close monument waters without first making a bigger research effort. By August 1979, the tourist industry was familiar with Jurasz's work. In fact, the southeast Alaska tourist industry had been financing its own research on Glacier Bay's whales since 1978 by employing a marine biologist who had formerly worked with Jurasz in Glacier Bay. William S. Lawton, a fisheries science graduate student and part-time reseacher at the NMFS's laboratory in Seattle, told a Seattle Times reporter in October 1979 that the industry had hired him to provide it with "unprejudiced, objective data" on vessels' effects upon whales in Glacier Bay, and he accused the Park Service of jumping to conclusions with Jurasz's research.  Lawton no doubt advised Giersdorf on the question of whale food.
But the NPS position was that it could not wait for irrefutable scientific findings to take precautions involving an endangered species. Wildlife managers very often had to base decisions on an imperfect knowledge of the resource, and in the case of an endangered species, it was especially important to err on the side of the resource. 
Complicating the dialogue further was the fact that the NPS, the MMC, and the NMFS had different responsibilities in managing an endangered species. All three agencies were required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972) and the Endangered Species Act (1973) to manage the humpback whales for a maximum sustainable population consistent with the maintenance of a healthy ecosystem. But the National Parks Act (1916) narrowed the Park Service's focus to the area of the monument, with the express purpose "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein." NMFS and MMC officials thought in terms of the southeast Alaska humpback whale stock and the larger ecosystem; Park Service officials were chiefly concerned about the Glacier Bay population and ecosystem. 
With so many conflicting interests and so much money at stake, it would be impossible for science to render an impartial verdict. This became clear in the meetings between tourist industry representatives, Park Service officials, and marine biologists of the NMFS and MMC which occurred in August and October 1979 in Seattle, and the following March in Anchorage. The representatives of the tourist industry insisted on a broader scope of research by professional scientists. In particular, they wanted a whale prey study to test their alternative explanation of whale behavior. NPS officials resisted the idea of a whale prey study, recognizing that it would be extremely difficult, probably inconclusive, and a drain on research funds available for extending the work begun by Jurasz on whale-vessel interactions. NMFS and MMC biologists sided with the tourist industry on the need for a prey study, partly, at least, because the marine biology research establishment was heavily oriented toward commercial fisheries, and they found the work done by Jurasz off-putting for its unconventionality as well as its amateurishness.  Indeed, the Jurasz report came under increasing attack by marine biologists and the tourist industry, until it was impossible to separate criticisms of its scientific merits from objections to its conclusions for management. Park Service officials mixed politics with science, too, as they came to the Jurasz report's defense:
The research plan that finally developed from these meetings involved three major studies to be undertaken concurrently, plus statistical analysis of the Jurasz data. The NPS allocated $275,000 for the research in fiscal year 1981, and $350,000 the following year, a ten-fold increase over money spent on whale research in Glacier Bay National Monument to date. Contracts were awarded through the National Marine Mammal Laboratory of the NMFS. These contracts were completed in 1983, although significant whale research would continue in the park for several more years. The three studies examined biotic activity and prey species abundance in the Glacier Bay ecosystem, acoustical properties of Glacier Bay and its ambient sound production levels, and whale behavioral responses to vessel traffic. 
While this research got under way, the Park Service developed temporary whale management regulations based on a biological opinion supplied by the NMFS in December 1979. The opinion emphasized that too little was known about the humpback whales to make sound conclusions; nevertheless, it gave strong support to the Park Service's inferences about whale-vessel interactions. Continued increase in the amount of vessel traffic in Glacier Bay, the opinion stated, might jeopardize the whole population of humpback whales in southeast Alaska. Dislocations of this whale stock, in turn, could decrease the likelihood of population recovery of the North Pacific herd. Therefore, it recommended that the NPS limit vessel entries to 1976 levels. 
Chapman's interim whale management plan introduced a permit system so that the NPS could limit vessel entries both by day and cumulatively over the season. For cruise ships, the limits were two per day and a total of 89 during June, July, and August, to take effect in 1981. For small vessels, the quotas were set at 230 tour, 226 charter, and 339 private boats during the whale season, with a limit of three tour vessels per day, to take effect in 1980. The plan continued the restrictions on movement in designated whale waters and prohibited commercial fishing for herring and capelin--two known prey species of the humpback whale. Released on March 5, 1980, for public comment, the plan elicited no fewer than 142 responses. Environmental groups generally responded favorably. Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation both responded that the plan did not go far enough: limits on entries needed to be more stringent, particularly during the influx periods. Friends of Glacier Bay recommended among other things placing commercial fishing boats under permit, too. Greenpeace wanted better enforcement of vessel movement restrictions. The sharpest criticism developed over the fact that the Park Service did not count trips by the concession boats toward the ceiling on tour boat entries, ostensibly because they were already included in the concessioner's contract.  Giersdorf, Jack Musiel of Westours, and others in the tourist industry did not object strenuously to the regulations through most of 1980 as the quotas did not yet apply to cruise ships. For the time being, they declined to contribute financially to the whale research program. 
Then two events occurred in the winter of 1980-81 which changed environmental politics in Alaska like nothing since statehood. President Carter signed ANILCA into law in the waning days of his administration, and President-elect Ronald Reagan confirmed environmentalists' fears by nominating one of the most pro-development interior secretaries of the century, James Watt. With enactment of ANILCA, the spotlight of environmental policymaking in Alaska swung from the legislative to the executive branch of government, and everyone knew that the incoming Republican administration was hardly friendly toward the new law. It did not take long to see how Watt would proceed. "Under the guise of implementing the law," Senator Paul Tsongas would declare in June 1982, "the secretary is, in fact, undoing the law. Through calculated use of the budget, selective enforcement of some provisions of the law but no enforcement of others, and by suspect interpretation of statutory provisions--the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act is being transformed into the Alaska National Interest Lands Development Act." 
Three months after Reagan took office, Jack Musiel appealed to Secretary Watt: "I am sure you are aware by now that the restrictions on vessel traffic in Glacier Bay National Park are having a severe adverse economic impact on the Alaska Travel Industry. We are in dire need of immediate relief." This missive followed a letter from Alaska's congressional delegation to Watt which alleged that the NPS was "using humpback whales as a smokescreen for limiting access" to the park. The senators and congressman reminded the secretary that ANILCA's Section 1307 guaranteed access. The administration was limited in how much it could do by the Endangered Species Act and the NMFS biological opinion, but Assistant Secretary G. Ray Arnett indicated that its goal was to complete the research program "as fast as possible" while pursuing "other possible causes" for the whales' behavior, and once "definitive answers" were found, it would issue new regulations. 
Park Service and NMFS officials felt pressured from various quarters to speed the research effort in the summer of 1982. The Park Service dropped its earlier objections to the construction of a whale observation platform for the 1982 season and to the use of radio transmitters for tracking whale movements. Radio tagging caused considerable excitement among park staff and Greenpeace observers, who felt that the tagging procedure, in which a transmitter was shot about twelve inches into the whale's back muscle behind its blowhole, might drive the whales off.  The NMFS assigned a biologist to Glacier Bay to coordinate the three studies and get them on a fast track for completion by early 1983.  Senator Frank Murkowski raised expectations for the 1983 season by his unilateral announcement that "the National Park Service is prepared to increase the number of cruise ship entries into Glacier Bay from 89 to 180 per summer if the research supports the level of activity."  In February 1983, the Park Service requested the NMFS for a second consultation under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.
The most overt action by the administration came in March 1983 with the ouster of Regional Director John E. Cook and Superintendent Chapman. Critics charged that the administration had sacked these two men in order to send a message to all NPS officials in Alaska.  Watt handpicked Cook's successor, Olympic National Park Superintendent Roger Contor. Contor, recognizing that he was walking into a political minefield, told a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News soon after his appointment that Alaskans were polarized over public land issues and it was the Park Service's goal to "stay somewhere in the middle." 
Contor appointed Michael Tollefson to fill the vacancy at Glacier Bay. Tollefson was skilled at getting along with different interest groups. He also possessed valuable Alaska experience, as a ranger at Kenai Fjords National Park and chief of operations at Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. To his staff as well as to the growing cadre of former park employees who were settled in Gustavus, Tollefson exuded competence and professionalism but also a kind of aloofness. These people, wary after Chapman's unceremonious departure, sensed that Tollefson was aligned more closely with the NPS bureaucracy than with the local interests of the park. 
Tollefson moved quickly to create permanent whale water regulations on the basis of the three scientific studies after they reached completion in the spring of 1983. The acoustical study, made by Bolt Beranek and Newman, Inc., of Cambridge, Massachusetts, showed that the rocky floor in certain portions of Glacier Bay did accentuate engine noise, while ambient noise levels in the bay were not significantly different than in Frederick Sound. The whale prey study, conducted by the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle, measured abundance of plankton, krill, capelin, herring, and other prey species in Glacier Bay, Frederick Sound, and Stephens Passage, and compared distribution patterns between 1981 and 1982. The results showed considerable variability of abundance between locations and years. The whale behavior study, done by C. Scott Baker and Louis M. Herman of the University of Hawaii, was hampered by the small number of resident whales in Glacier Bay during the two field seasons, but its findings corroborated Jurasz's basic observation that there was a correlation between whales' "aerial" behavior (breaching, tail slapping, etc.) and their proximity to vessels. Baker and Herman rejected Jurasz's hierarchy of stress behavior, however, suggesting that whales' reactions to vessels were dependent on complex variables such as an individual's age and sex, mother/calf pairing, feed availability, and physical characteristics at the site of the encounter. Finally, Dr. Frederick Dean's analysis of the breath logs compiled by Jurasz indicated that breath rates were affected by vessel traffic, with cruise ship and high-speed cabin cruisers having the most pronounced effect on blow-interval patterns. 
Predictably, it was possible to draw different practical conclusions from these results, and the need for more data, particularly concerning whale behavior, was evident. The NMFS issued its second biological opinion on June 22, 1983, still holding to its earlier position that uncontrolled increases in vessel traffic in Glacier Bay would jeopardize the southeast Alaska humpback whale stock. However, the NMFS now suggested that a twenty percent increase in vessel entries would be prudent as long as the Glacier Bay whale population did not fall below the 1982 level. After a minimum of two years of monitoring the effects of such an increase, a further increase might be proposed. 
When the whale regulations finally appeared in the Federal Register the following April, they did not attract as much comment as had Chapman's temporary regulations in 1980. The regulations extended the buffer around whales from 1/4- to 1/2-mile, prohibited sudden changes of speed in designated whale waters, and changed the permit system to track visitor use days, allowing the Park Service more control over the volume of boats in the park at any given time. The regulations also authorized the superintendent to increase the ceilings on vessel permits by up to twenty percent if the whale population increased.
Tollefson's management of the humpback whale issue elicited markedly different responses from the two environmental groups most involved with the park, Friends of Glacier Bay and Greenpeace Alaska (which changed its name to Alaska Wildlife Alliance in 1983). While Friends of Glacier Bay adopted a more supportive stance toward park administration, Alaska Wildlife Alliance became progressively more critical. This was not surprising. The evolving membership of Friends of Glacier Bay included a large contingent of local fishermen as well as former and current Park Service employees living in Gustavus, together with environmentalists from around the state. The group increasingly viewed its role as that of consensus builder and promoter of enlightened local environmental management. Alaska Wildlife Alliance's membership was mainly urban, and it saw its role as oppositional, as the uncompromising advocate of the environment. Its strategy was confrontational. As an organization that survived on door-to-door membership drives, it depended on media attention and controversy for sustenance. Its parent organization, Greenpeace U.S.A., had made its name challenging the establishment on such hot-button issues as atmospheric nuclear tests and seal and whale harvesting.
Friends of Glacier Bay commended the Park Service for the new regulations. "They give whales the benefit of any major doubt," Howe wrote to Tollefson, "yet they are couched in somewhat generalized language that permits the NPS a reasonable amount of management flexibility." Friends of Glacier Bay did raise two specific concerns. First, small vessels should be allowed to anchor in Bartlett Cove while awaiting availability of a permit, thereby facilitating visitor access to park headquarters, which was "critical." (Howe had raised the same point with Chapman in 1980.) Second, the regulation against pot-fishing for shrimp seemed unduly hard on local fishermen. Friends of Glacier Bay intended to ask the scientists whether this small-scale fishery really had a measurable impact on whale feed. "Whether or not commercial fishing is considered an appropriate Park activity," Howe advised, "whale regulations should not be used as a vehicle for limiting it unless whales benefit from the limits. Shooting square with fishermen on this matter will earn the NPS good will that is sorely needed in addressing much thornier management conflicts--such as the issue of wilderness waters." 
The Alaska Wildlife Alliance focused on two main objectives: to census the Glacier Bay whale population from year to year, and to monitor how effectively the Park Service enforced vessel restrictions. The group fielded a small number of shore-based volunteers in the park for a few weeks every year from 1980 through 1984. These people contributed their whale sightings to the censusing effort and goaded the NPS toward stricter enforcement with both written and radio-transmitted reports of boater violations. Both efforts served the group's self-interest as well as the whales: the census provided a simple, objective index with which the media and the public could continue to track the situation after all the sound and fury over closing the bay and vessel entry quotas had subsided, and monitoring the Park Service's enforcement of the regulations fit the group's confrontational strategy. But these efforts were also based on very real fears that the whale regulations, and thus the whales, might otherwise fall victim to the Reagan administration's pattern of selective non-enforcement of environmental laws and regulations.
The Alaska Wildlife Alliance found Regional Director Roger Contor and Superintendent Tollefson noticeably less receptive than their predecessors Cook and Chapman had been. In July 1983, Alaska Wildlife Alliance Director Wayne Hall discussed his group's past volunteer program in Glacier Bay with Contor and afterwards submitted a proposal that would greatly expand the program in 1984 with a $23,514 grant from the Park Service for supplies, radio equipment, and transportation costs. He was disappointed, however, when the Park Service did not even acknowledge the proposal despite several follow-up letters. Nevertheless, Hall and seven other volunteers spent fourteen days of the whale season of 1984 camped at various posts around the lower and middle bay. In September, Hall sent a strong letter to Contor in which he alleged, "The National Park Service commitment to the protection of humpback whales appears to be in a very serious state of decline." In five seasons of "direct observations in Glacier Bay," the past season had been the "worst." They had observed boaters speeding, violating the 1/2-mile buffer around whales, even pursuing whales, while ranger patrols were inadequate. Even when a ranger apprehended a violator, they alleged, the ranger was discouraged from issuing a citation. Park management had also ignored their request to extend designated whale waters north of Sitakaday Narrows, despite their observations of whales in the area. "For the first time in our involvement in Glacier Bay," Hall wrote, "we felt that our whale observations were not believed by NPS staff." Indeed, Hall and his associates had quit reporting their whale sightings before the end of their stay, concluding that the rangers gave more credence to whale reports by the skippers of Glacier Bay Explorer and Thunder Bay. 
Hall and his associates were probably correct in their perception of a more relaxed atmosphere. The park staff generally viewed the new whale management plan as a sign that the crisis had passed, that the Park Service had found a manageable way for whales and park visitors to coexist in Glacier Bay. Park personnel liked to assume that boaters were responsive to the need for whale protection and would readily change their behavior if given a warning. One seasonal ranger who served on whale patrol in the summer of 1983 told an interviewer for Alaska Magazine, "Glacier Bay isn't a cops and robbers park so a good deal of my job is best described as public relations. In parks in the Lower 48, I'd be busy handing out citations but here the whales keep me busier than the park visitors."  As the park returned to normalcy under Tollefson's superintendency, Alaska Wildlife Alliance volunteers simply wore out their welcome among park rangers with their shrill calls over the air waves for whale patrol.
The complexion of the whale management problem improved with each year's new findings from the ongoing research of biologist C. Scott Baker. In 1985, Baker estimated the total population of humpback whales in southeast Alaska at 326--considerably more than the most commonly cited estimate in 1978 of 60. Baker suggested that local movement of whales, such as between Glacier Bay and Frederick Sound, might reflect "complex foraging strategies to exploit seasonal changes in the distribution and abundance of prey species." Glacier Bay appeared to be an important foraging area in early summer. In 1986, Baker attempted to give a picture of the whole North Pacific herd. Photoidentification revealed that the same humpbacks that summered in southeast Alaska wintered in the Hawaiian Islands. He estimated that the winter breeding stock was four to six times larger than the southeast Alaska population in summer. It appeared that the stock in the Hawaiian Islands dispersed into smaller groups for summer feeding, and these groups showed strong site fidelity, often returning to the same bays and channels in southeast Alaska year after year. 
The most important study for whale management was an NPS report by Baker and resource specialist Gary M. Vequist in 1987, "Humpback Whales in Glacier Bay, Alaska: A long-term history of habitat use." Baker and Vequist determined that whale movement patterns within southeast Alaska were so complex that the summer resident population in Glacier Bay was bound to show considerable variation. The relatively stable population levels during the 1970s now appeared to be atypical, and the sudden departure of the whales in 1978 was probably a normal foraging strategy. The population in Glacier Bay might fluctuate, but the total stock in southeast Alaska appeared to be stable or increasing. As for monitoring the population with a view toward raising the number of vessel entry permits as recommended in the NMFS's second biological opinion, Baker and Vequist suggested that treating Icy Strait and Glacier Bay as one contiguous habitat would reflect more accurately the health of the whale population. The whales in these combined areas constituted about ten percent of the total southeast Alaska stock. 
The Park Service increased the number of vessel entry permits twice under the whale management plan of 1984. Following a whale count of twenty-six in the bay in 1984, Tollefson raised the vessel entry permits by 14.6 percent in all categories for 1985. When the whale count fell to thirteen the next year, Tollefson maintained that the decline was thought to be due to the cold summer weather and a smaller amount of whale feed in the park, not increased vessel traffic. The whale count reached thirty-two in 1986 and thirty-three in 1987. A further increase in vessel entry permits was adopted for all categories for 1988, completing the 20 percent increase over 1976 vessel entries allowed by the 1984 whale regulations. This brought the total number of cruise ship entry permits during whale season to 107.
Twelve years after the Park Service began funding research on the humpback whales, no one could depict with certainty the overall effects of vessel traffic on whale habitat. Asked about this by a reporter when the NPS announced its second increase in vessel entry permits, Vequist answered with measured words, hewing to what was definitely known: "Many whales respond to close proximity of vessels by decreasing blow intervals, increasing dive times, and moving away from the vessel path."  What the long term consequences of vessel traffic in Glacier Bay would be for humpback whales remained an open question.
Last Updated: 24-Sep-2000