Passive Acoustic Monitoring of Cook Inlet Beluga Whales
Acoustic monitoring of Cook Inlet beluga whales and killer whales, which prey on belugas
The endangered beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) population in Cook Inlet, Alaska faces threats from a variety of anthropogenic factors. These include coastal development, oil and gas exploration, vessel traffic, and military activities. To address existing gaps in understanding about the occurrences of belugas in Cook Inlet, a project was developed to use passive acoustic monitoring to document the year-round distribution of belugas, as well as killer whales (Orcinus orca), which prey on belugas. Beginning in June 2008, ten moorings were deployed throughout the Inlet and refurbished every two to eight months. Despite challenging conditions with strong tidal currents carrying debris and seasonal ice cover, 83% of mooring deployments were successfully recovered. Noise from water flow, vessel traffic, and/or industrial activities was present at several sites, potentially masking some signals. However, belugas were successfully detected at multiple locations. Detections were relatively common in the upper inlet and less common or absent at middle and lower inlet locations. Killer whale signals were also recorded. Some seasonal variability in the occurrence of both belugas and killer whales was evident.