Have you ever seen a beluga whale? Local residents and visitors from around the world had their first such experience at last year’s Belugas Count!
This all-day citizen science celebration aims to bring together members of the public to focus on the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale, fostering local pride, awareness, and stewardship. It’s a collaboration among a variety of federal and state agencies, local and national organizations, and people just like you.
Last year’s Belugas Count! event was so successful, with over 2,000 participants reporting 255 beluga sightings, NOAA Fisheries and partners are inviting members of the public to participate again in the all-day event on September 15.
Activities start at 10 a.m. Members of the public are invited to help spot and count endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales at 14 staffed and public stations throughout Cook Inlet from Homer to the MatSu Valley. Sightings will be used by NOAA and partners to help guide management of this iconic whale. Remember to bring your camera and binoculars. Beluga counting wraps up at 1 p.m.
From 1-5 p.m., a free Beluga Festival will be held at the Alaska Zoo’s Gateway Complex. It will feature beluga-related presentations including a livestream update from SeaWorld San Antonio featuring Tyonek, the beluga calf rescued from a beach in Cook Inlet last fall. Other fun family activities include music, a marine debris obstacle course, and virtual reality googles to experience Cook Inlet.
The City of Homer is declaring September 15 Belugas Count Day in celebration of the event.
Please join us and show your support for Cook Inlet beluga whales,” said NOAA Fisheries Alaska Regional Administrator Jim Balsiger. “Seeing belugas in the wild is a great reminder of our connection to Alaska’s oceans.”
There will also be Facebook Live broadcasts from the event at www.facebook.com/BelugasCount. Participants using social media can use the hashtag #BelugasCount!
In October 2008, NOAA Fisheries listed Cook Inlet beluga whales as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. This species continues to suffer a downward population trend. Scientists estimate there are between 300-400 beluga whales in Cook Inlet.
NOAA Fisheries has designated Cook Inlet beluga whales as one of eight “Species in the Spotlight” — 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.
Partners in this event include: NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska SeaLife Center, Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, The Alaska Zoo, Anchorage Public Library, Anchorage Waterways Council, Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility, Beluga Whale Alliance, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Cook Inlet Beluga Photo-ID Project, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Forest Service, Georgia Aquarium, Glacier Oil and Gas, Hilcorp, University of Alaska Kachemak Bay Campus, Mystic Aquarium, SeaWorld, Shedd Aquarium, and committed individuals.