Assessment of Remote Video for Monitoring Beluga Whales of Cook Inlet, Alaska
This study using remote video monitoring of by the Alaska SeaLife Center added finer-scale information about habitat use and behavior to the existing body of knowledge about Cook Inlet belugas.
NOAA Fisheries estimated the number of Alaska’s Cook Inlet beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas), an endangered species, at a mere 312 animals in 2012. Understanding the habitat use and defining critical habitat for these whales is crucial for their conservation. The Little Susitna River Delta is thought to be an important summer foraging, mating, and calving habitat area for the species. To investigate the efficiency of new methodologies and increase our understanding of habitat use, the Alaska SeaLife Center initiated the Cook Inlet beluga whale remote monitoring pilot study in the summer of 2011. The video monitoring in this study consisted of observers using two remotely controlled video cameras mounted on a 9-meter tower. These cameras were located approximately 1.5 river miles from the confluence of the Little Susitna River and the waters of the Cook Inlet. Belugas were observed through the cameras from May to August 2011 as they entered the river mouth and traveled upstream past the camera site. The remotely captured behavioral information in this secluded location added finer-scale information about habitat use and behavior to the existing body of knowledge about Cook Inlet belugas. Behaviors observed and video-recorded included typical beluga behaviors (e.g., travelling, milling, and suspected feeding) along with a higher-than-anticipated occurrence of other behaviors (e.g., breaching, spyhopping, mother-and-newborn interactions). Additionally, detailed group composition, distribution, and duration of sighting data was collected, proving both the effectiveness and value of this monitoring method.
Lori Polasek, Tamara McGuire, Jill Prewitt, Bonnie Easley-Appleyard, Leigh Pinney. Published in Marine Fisheries Review, 77(1), 2015. dx.doi.org/10.7755/MFR.77.1.6