Beluga Numbers Rise Slightly In Last Year

The annual survey count for the endangered Cook Inlet Belugas has been released and as in years past, it has not changed much. NOAA scientists counted 312 whales last summer and fall, up 28 animals from the 2011 count, but the uptick is not considered significant and scientists say the belugas are still in a slow decline. Kim Sheldon is a biologist with the National Marine Mammal Lab in Seattle. She says although the count continues to show a downward trend over the last decade, they were excited to see belugas in the lower part of Cook Inlet last summer.

“We came across a group as we were returning to the upper inlet that was making its way across to West Foreland and it was very exciting for us. We haven’t seen belugas in the lower inlet since about 2001 when we had a sighting down at Kachemak Bay, but that was just, I believe a single animal.”

She says scientists are hopeful to continue studying the animals, depending on funding levels. She says there’s a lot of factors that need to be researched.

“There’s proposals to get out and biopsy the Cook Inlet Belugas just to get an idea of what kind of contaminant loads, you know things, reproductive levels, fatty acid content,  what prey are they targeting.”

The Cook Inlet Beluga is a distinct genetic population and was listed as endangered under the endangered Species Act in 2008. NOAA Spokeswoman Julie Speegle says a recovery plan is in the works and should be available for public review in the spring.


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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori