Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Population Decline and Recovery: An Exploration Through Local and Ecological Knowledge
Collaborative study about the Cook Inlet beluga whale population's decline and lack of recovery.
This study documents local knowledge from Alaska Natives and non-indigenous participants to explore contributing factors for the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) population decline and lack of recovery. Data were collected through 16 semi-structured interviews with key informants from the region using participatory techniques and analyzed for convergent information. Local knowledge was compared with existing scientific research to explore similarities and differences. Findings identified noticeable beluga whale declines beginning in the mid-1980s, shark and northern pike population increases, higher frequency of killer whale sightings, decreased salmon numbers and increased siltation and mudflat expansion all in association with beluga whale habitat. Additional findings of terrestrial plant, animal, and insect change and wetland drying suggest broader environmental and climate-related changes. These findings contribute to conservation objectives outlines in NOAA Fisheries' conservation plan and provide direction to future research and conservation management.