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NOAA: Cook Inlet Beluga Population up s Since 2009; Overall Trend Still Downwards


Anchorage, AK — Scientists from NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries
Service have estimated the Cook Inlet beluga whale population to be 340
animals. This is up from the 2009 figure of 321.

The results are based on aerial surveys conducted in early June during
fish migrations, when belugas concentrate near river mouths. NOAA’s
Fisheries Service scientists surveyed the entire Cook Inlet, with
several days spent focusing on upper Cook Inlet where all of the whales
have been found in recent years. The scientists manually count the
belugas while collecting video of the groups of whales. Those video
sequences and observer counts were later analyzed to obtain an estimate
of the total number of beluga whales in the inlet.

The Cook Inlet beluga whale was listed as endangered under the
Endangered Species Act in 2008. Although the population estimate saw a
slight increase this year, analysis over the past decade shows a
gradual downward population trend of 1.1% annually.

The Cook Inlet beluga population estimates for each of the past 10
years are:

2001: 386
2002: 313
2003: 357
2004: 366
2005: 278
2006: 302
2007: 375
2008: 375
2009: 321
2010: 340

Fisheries scientists also conducted aerial surveys in August to count
calves and estimate the calving rate of this population. Results from
the August surveys are expected in December.

Cook Inlet belugas are one of five beluga populations recognized within
U.S. waters. The others are Bristol Bay, eastern Bering Sea, eastern
Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea.
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