There’s extra Alaskan pride in this year’s Belugas Count! event. Posters promoting the event will feature the artwork of Alaska resident Barb Lake, the winner of the 2023 Belugas Count! poster contest.
“Belugas Count! is an excellent and fun opportunity for the public to learn about an iconic Alaska species, the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale, and to meet beluga conservation partners from throughout the country who converge each fall in the Cook Inlet area specifically for this event,” said Anne Marie Eich, head of NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region Protected Resources Division. “Alaskans are proud of the things that make this state unique, such as the Cook Inlet beluga, and also the artistic talents of their fellow residents. We’re excited to showcase and foster support for both by highlighting local Alaska artwork in the Belugas Count! poster design contest.”
Established in 2017, Belugas Count! is the largest single-day public education outreach event for the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale. It's also the largest outreach event led by the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region. The event is a collaboration among federal and state agencies, local and national organizations, academia, aquaria, industry, and others. It focuses on fostering local pride, awareness, and stewardship of Cook Inlet belugas in support of their recovery.
This year's event will be held September 23, 2023 at multiple viewing and indoor event locations throughout Cook Inlet, Alaska. This year organizers and participants celebrate both the fifth annual Belugas Count! as well as the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Alaska-centric Poster Art Design Contest
For the first time ever, this year’s event preparation included a poster art design contest. It was open to Alaska residents and those living in Alaska, ages 12 and older; submissions were accepted April 7 to June 1, 2023.
A voting panel composed of Belugas Count! event partners reviewed the submissions for this year's Belugas Count! poster contest, scoring each entry based on:
- Originality, visual design, and aesthetic appeal
- Adherence to the Belugas Count! theme
- Adherence to contest rules
- Consistency with current scientific information on Cook Inlet beluga whales and their habitat
The poster designed by Barb Lake of Juneau received the highest score.
“I’m thrilled to contribute to this special anniversary of Belugas Count! and I am so excited to attend this year for the very first time!” said Lake. “Marine mammals are like icebergs; only a small part of their lives are seen at the surface. Plus, you have to celebrate a special anniversary like this with a party hat; I purposefully left the chin strap off to keep the sea entanglement free.”
Lake’s art will be featured on printed event posters, NOAA websites, and social media.
Every September, Alaska residents and visitors join marine mammal experts along the shores of Cook Inlet to look for endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales. Belugas Count is a free family-friendly celebration, hosted by NOAA Fisheries and dozens of partners. The event raises awareness of the plight of this special whale, which is found only in Cook Inlet.
Endangered Beluga Whales
In October 2008, NOAA Fisheries listed Cook Inlet beluga whales as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Scientists estimate there are currently about 331 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 facilitate and support that collaboration.