Listening for endangered Cook Inlet Belugas

This week we want to highlight some great research being done by our collaborators.

It has been just over a month since the Wildlife Response Team at the Alaska SeaLife Center responded to, and rescued a baby beluga who stranded in Cook Inlet. The young male, Tyonek, has been making steady progress on his way to recovery—thanks very much to the efforts of our partners at Georgia Aquarium, Mystic Aquarium, Shedd Aquarium, Vancouver Aquarium and SeaWorld. (Activities pictured are authorized by MMHSRP MMPA/ESA #18786-02)

 

Read more about his story: here and follow us on Facebook for updates!

While this story is ongoing–the story of the Cook Inlet Beluga Population, and the research being done to understand this species, has been going on for a long time!

There are many populations of beluga around the Arctic. Tyonek is from the Cook Inlet distinct population segment—meaning a population of beluga that are resident to the Cook Inlet region of Alaska and are genetically distinct from other populations.

fig1_beluga_range
Approximate distribution of belugas in Alaska and identification of distinct stocks From Alaska Fisheries NOAA 

Once numbering around 1,300 animals, today there are only 328 belugas left and they typically are concentrated in the upper Cook Inlet. This dramatic population decline led to listing the Cook Inlet stock as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Next week we will share some of the information our veterinary staff is learning from their efforts in monitoring the health of Tyonek that can improve our understanding of this species, but there are also numerous research projects being conducted by researchers in Alaska.

beluga2
Cook Inlet Beluga: Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries (original source )

For instance, NOAA fisheries scientists and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are working together to use acoustic monitoring to determine where belugas are foraging, and whether noise may displace belugas from certain areas.

You can read more about their recent field work on this blog:

Cook Inlet beluga whale acoustic monitoring

Written by: Dr. Amy Bishop

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