2022 Belugas Count!
NOAA Fisheries and partners invite the public to the 4th annual Cook Inlet Belugas Count! event.
|NOAA Fisheries and partners have set the date for the 2023 Belugas Count! Please join us in person or virtually September 23, 2023. More details coming soon.|
After a 2-year pause, NOAA Fisheries and our partners are excited to announce the return of the Annual Belugas Count! event. This citizen science celebration brings together members of the public to focus on the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale, fostering local pride, awareness, and stewardship. The event is a collaboration among federal and state agencies, local and national organizations, academia, and aquaria, as well as individuals.
This year, we invite the public to join beluga experts from NOAA Fisheries and our partners at outdoor viewing stations throughout Cook Inlet. At these stations you can:
- Help spot and count Cook Inlet beluga whales
- Learn about Cook Inlet beluga life history
- Find out about ongoing efforts to recover the population and how you can help
- Enjoy fun, family-friendly educational activities
This celebration and citizen count is free and open to the public. No registration is required.
About Cook Inlet Beluga Whales
Beluga whales whistle, chirp, click and squeak—earning the moniker “canaries of the sea.” In the United States, these small, white whales can only be seen in Alaska. Of the five populations of belugas in Alaska, the Cook Inlet beluga population is the smallest and the only population that is endangered.
In October 2008, NOAA Fisheries listed Cook Inlet beluga whales as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. This species continues a downward population trend. At present, scientists estimate there are only approximately 279 beluga whales in Cook Inlet.
NOAA Fisheries has designated Cook Inlet beluga whales as one of nine “Species in the Spotlight.” These are species in need of a concerted effort by individuals, agencies, groups, tribes, institutions, and organizations large and small to survive. The goal is to have partners and interested members of the public work together to recover this species. Belugas Count! is an event designed to do that.
Learn More about Cook Inlet Beluga Whales
Did you know that, like many other species of whales, individual Cook Inlet belugas can be identified by natural markings on their bodies? The Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Photo-ID Project has been capturing and cataloging photographs of Cook Inlet belugas since 2005. This research provides critical information on how many whales there are, how old they are and how long they live, where they move throughout the year within Cook Inlet, which whales are reproducing, how often, calf survival, and other data that are key to helping understand how to conserve and recovery the population.
Below are just a few of the many Cook Inlet belugas that the Photo-ID project has identified. Maybe you’ll spot Treasure, Bleacher, or Three Eyes when you join us at Belugas Count!
For more information about this important research and to learn how to send your Cook Inlet beluga photos for submission to the Photo-ID catalog, check out the project’s website.
All Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Photo-ID Project images were taken under NMFS General Authorization #LOC 481- 1795-01 and MMPA/ESA Research permit #14210, #18016, #2222.
First photographed in 2005, Treasure is estimated to be at least 20 years old. Her scars are the result of trauma, likely a killer whale attack. Despite that, she has been seen with multiple calves over the years. She was most recently photographed in 2021 (2022 photos are still being collected and analyzed).
First photographed in 2008 when she was estimated to be about 4 years old, Bleacher has also been seen with multiple calves over the years. The origin of her scar is unknown but might be due to a fungal infection. In 2015, Bleacher and her calf live-stranded in Turnagain Arm. As is often the case with Cook Inlet belugas, they became unstranded as the tide rose. Bleacher was next photographed in 2017, providing confirmation that she did not succumb to any delayed affects from the stranding.
Three Eyes (R32)
Three Eyes was first photographed in 2005 as a subadult. In 2013, she was photographed with a newborn calf. She was observed multiple times in summer and fall 2021, initially without a laceration, then later with a new laceration of unknown origin (early September), which was healing by early October.
Sometimes Talking a Lot is a Good Thing
Do you talk a lot? Cook Inlet belugas do. Beluga whales make a wide variety of vocalizations, from calls to whistles, which have led to them often being called “canaries of the sea”. They also use echolocation to find and capture prey.
This comes in handy. The large amounts of glacier silt transported into Cook Inlet by rivers and streams turn the water an opaque brownish color, which can make it difficult to see belugas when they are not at the surface. Luckily, because belugas are so vocal, researchers can learn a lot about how Cook Inlet belugas interact with their habitat by recording their calls.
Scientists deploy acoustic monitoring equipment in Cook Inlet and record beluga calls. Despite challenging conditions (e.g., extreme tides and currents, sedimentation, ice, and even bears chewing on the equipment!), they are able to collect these data year-round. By deploying these recorders in multiple locations throughout the inlet, they learn where the whales are likely to be at different times of year.
Because belugas make special echolocation calls when hunting for prey, these recordings also give researchers insight into seasonally important foraging areas. When a beluga echolocates prey, clicks produced by the whale bounce off the prey and help the whale tell where it is and how close. The sequence of clicks speeds up as the beluga gets closer to its prey, and often ends with a burst of clicks (known as a “foraging buzz”). When the audio recording ends with a crunch noise, we know that the whale got its meal.
To read more about what researchers are learning from Cook Inlet beluga acoustic monitoring studies, check out this story.
COVID-19 Event Safety
We endeavor to make this event as safe as possible. All activities will be outdoors and the event will comply with all local, state, and federal COVID-19 safety guidelines and requirements, if applicable. Currently, social distance and masking while in outdoor spaces is not required, however, participants and the public are encouraged to practice social distancing (6 feet apart) and to wear a mask if others near you are wearing one. To minimize common touch points, viewing equipment will not be shared between station staff and the public. Please bring your own binoculars or scopes. Signage encouraging these practices will be posted near and at each station.
Please do not attend the in-person event if you:
- Have tested positive for COVID-19 within 5 days prior to the event
- Feel sick or have any symptoms consistent with COVID-19
- Have been exposed to anyone who has symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or has recently tested positive for COVID-19
Event safety guidelines are subject to change to reflect new and updated government COVID-19 guidelines and community levels.
The 2022 Belugas Count! event is made possible by NOAA Fisheries and the following partners:
It is also supported by Matson.