Photo-identification of Beluga Whales in Upper Cook Inlet Alaska - North Pacific Research Board Project 1210 Final Report
The development of a catalog of left-side digital images of individually-identified Cook Inlet beluga whales
LGL's photo-identification study of endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales (CIBWs) has demonstrated that CIBWs possess persisting natural marks that can be identified and re-sighted photographically over long periods of time. The cataloged images of the right sides of CIBWs photographed between 2005 and 2014 have provided information about the distribution and movement patterns of 312 individual CIBWs and the population in general including residency/movement pattern, habitat utilization, reproduction, injury disease, and mortality. Funding from NPRB in 2009-2010 allowed us to catalog images of the left-sides of CIBWs photographed in 2005-2008, and to develop a left-side catalog that contained records for 186 individual CIBWs. Continued NPRB funding in 2012 allowed the continued development of the left-side catalog. A total of 296 CIBWs have now been identified as individuals from left-side images, including 117 presumed mothers, with the inclusion of CIBWs photographed in 2009-2011 and the addition of 110 new individuals to the catalog. Nine dead whales have also been identified as individuals in the left-side catalog. The development of left-side catalog increased the existing information about identified CIBWs without requiring additional field work, research permits or disturbance to the whales. Left-side catalog development allowed for greater representation of whales seen in Turnagain and Kink Arms, and increased the evidence that CIBWs do not display fidelity to any single area of Cook Inlet and that individuals move among areas and groups. All CIBWs are therefore likely exposed to multiple potential threats that may be endemic to certain areas of Cook Inlet.