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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