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Integration or co-optation? Traditional knowledge and science in the Alaska Beluga Whale Committee

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 January 2007

Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) has become a focus of increasing attention by natural resource managers over the past decade, particularly in the context of the shared management authority between resource users and government agencies (co-management). Little work has been done on how TEK can be successfully integrated with science and applied in contemporary science-based resource management institutions, and the efficacy and legitimacy of co-management and associated attempts to document TEK or integrate it with science have recently been questioned. The cooperative research programme of one co-management group, the Alaska Beluga Whale Committee (ABWC), was studied to describe how TEK and science are integrated and applied in the research process, document perceptions and attitudes of native hunters and scientists towards TEK and science, and identify organizational characteristics that facilitate knowledge integration. Hunters and TEK played a variety of roles in ABWC's research programme, including hypothesis generation, sample collection and data interpretation. Hunters and scientists defined TEK similarly, but differed in their views of science, which hunters often perceived as a tool of state control. Despite political undercurrents, the ABWC displayed several indicators of successful knowledge integration. Organizational characteristics that facilitated integration included a membership structure fostering genuine power-sharing and a range of opportunities for formal and informal interactions among hunters and scientists leading to long-term relationships and an organizational culture of open communication and transparency in decision-making. Given the importance of long-term relationships between scientists and hunters for successful knowledge integration, this study raises questions about (1) the potential for meaningful integration in short-term projects such as environmental impact assessment and (2) the use of TEK documentation studies in the absence of other forms of active participation by TEK- holders.

Corresponding author
Correspondence: Dr Maria E. Fernandez-Gimenez Tel: +1 970 491 0409 e-mail:
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Environmental Conservation
  • ISSN: 0376-8929
  • EISSN: 1469-4387
  • URL: /core/journals/environmental-conservation
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