About the Species
Beluga whales are known for their white color and range of vocal sounds, earning them the title of "canary of the sea." They are very social animals, forming groups to hunt, migrate, and interact with each other.
Beluga whales are found in the United States in Alaska and globally throughout the Arctic Ocean. They are at home in large rivers and can move between salt and fresh water. A thick layer of fat, called blubber, and thick skin helps them live in the freezing waters of the arctic and subarctic environment. Belugas also lack a dorsal fin so that they can swim under ice.
Beluga whales are vulnerable to many stressors and threats, including pollution, habitat degradation, harassment, interactions with commercial and recreational fisheries, oil and gas exploration, disease, and other types of human disturbance such as underwater noise.
Commercial and sport hunting once threatened beluga whale populations. These activities are now banned, though Alaska Natives still hunt beluga whales for subsistence—the practice of hunting marine mammals for food, clothing, shelter, heating, and other uses necessary for preserving the livelihood of Native communities. Beluga subsistence harvest in the Cook Inlet of south-central Alaska are now regulated because of the lack of recovery in the area. Alaska Natives last hunted Cook Inlet beluga whales in 2005.
All beluga whale populations are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. NOAA Fisheries has designated the Cook Inlet beluga whale population in Alaska and the Sakhalin Bay-Nikolaya Bay-Amur River stock off the coast of Russia as depleted under the MMPA (i.e., they have fallen below their optimum sustainable population levels).
In addition, the Cook Inlet distinct population segment has been listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. Cook Inlet belugas are one of NOAA Fisheries' Species in the Spotlight—an initiative that includes animals considered most at risk for extinction and prioritizes their recovery efforts.
NOAA Fisheries is committed to conserving beluga whales and protecting and rebuilding depleted and endangered populations. Our scientists and partners use a variety of innovative techniques to study and protect beluga whales. We also work with our partners to protect critical habitat for Cook Inlet belugas and engage the public in conservation efforts.
In the United States, NOAA Fisheries has identified five stocks of beluga whales, all in Alaskan waters—the Beaufort Sea, Bristol Bay, Cook Inlet, eastern Bering Sea, and eastern Chukchi Sea stocks. Each stock is unique, isolated from one another genetically and/or physically by migration routes and preferred habitats. NOAA Fisheries' stock assessment reports estimate population size for stocks within U.S. waters.
Worldwide, belugas may number in the hundreds of thousands; however, some stocks are small, numbering in the low hundreds. The endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale population has declined by nearly 75 percent since 1979, from about 1,300 whales to an estimated 328 whales in 2016. The rapid decline and dire status of the Cook Inlet beluga whale population makes it a priority for NOAA Fisheries and its partners to prevent extinction and promote recovery.
The population of Sakhalin Bay-Nikolaya Bay-Amur River beluga whales, a stock in the eastern North Pacific off the coast of Russia, is estimated to be around 3,961 whales. In response to a petition, NOAA Fisheries conducted a status review of the stock and designated it as depleted under the MMPA in 2016.
- Cook Inlet DPS
CITES Appendix II
- Throughout Its Range
- Throughout Its Range
- Cook Inlet stock
- Sakhalin Bay-Nikolaya Bay-Amur River stock
Beluga whales are dark grey as calves. Their skin lightens as they age, becoming white as they reach sexual maturity. They lack a pronounced rostrum, or beak, and the top of their head is characterized by a round, flexible “melon” that focuses and modulates their vocalizations, including echolocation “clicks.” They are a toothed whale, possessing 36 to 40 teeth total in both the upper and lower jawbones.
The genus name Delphinapterus translates to “dolphin without a fin.” Instead of a dorsal fin, belugas have a tough dorsal ridge, which allows them to swim easily under ice floes (sheets of floating ice). Unlike other whales and dolphins, their neck vertebrae are not fused, so belugas can nod and move their heads from side to side.
Beluga whales are covered with a thick layer of blubber that accounts for up to 40 percent of their weight. The blubber keeps them warm in the Arctic waters and stores energy. Some beluga populations shed their outer layer of skin each summer during an annual molt. They rub against coarse gravel in shallow waters to help remove the layer of old, yellowed skin.
Behavior and Diet
Belugas are social animals. They return to their birth areas each summer to hunt, breed, and calve. Groups may range from one or two whales to several hundred. Individuals move between groups within these populations, unlike killer whales, which appear to have strong ties within their maternal-led pods.
Belugas are known as the "canaries of the sea" because they produce many different sounds, including whistles, squeals, moos, chirps, and clicks. They rely on their hearing and ability to echolocate, using sound to navigate and hunt for prey. Belugas also have sharp vision both in and out of water.
Beluga whales have a varied diet consisting of octopus, squid, crabs, shrimp, clams, snails, and sandworms. They also eat a variety of fishes, including salmon, cod, sole, herring, smelt, and flounder.
Where They Live
Beluga whales live in the Arctic Ocean and its nearby seas in the Northern Hemisphere. They are common to many regions of Alaska, as well as Russia, Canada, and Greenland. Belugas are usually found in shallow coastal waters during the summer months, often in water barely deep enough to cover their bodies. During other seasons, they may be found in deeper waters, diving to 1,000-meter depths for periods of up to 25 minutes. They swim among ice floes in arctic and subarctic waters, where temperatures may be as low as 32°F. Belugas also seasonally inhabit estuaries and large river deltas and are thus well-adapted to both cold ocean habitats and relatively warmer freshwater habitats.
Lifespan & Reproduction
Similar to tree rings that can be used to age a tree, beluga teeth acquire a “growth layer group” (GLG) for each year they age. The oldest beluga on record had 80 GLGs, though this may be an underestimate of the whale’s true age. The oldest Cook Inlet beluga whale had 49 GLGs.
Beluga whales are believed to mate in late winter and early spring. Depending on the population, this may occur during migration or in their wintering grounds. Females reach sexual maturity when they are about 9 to 14 years old, and males when they are slightly older. Pregnancy lasts 14 months, and calves nurse for 2 years. Females give birth every 2 to 3 years. Menopause has not been documented in belugas.
Belugas generally give birth during summer in areas where the water is relatively warm, as newborn calves lack a thick blubber layer to protect them from cold water. Calves benefit from the warmer water of shallow tidal flats and estuaries.
Beluga whale populations are exposed to a variety of stressors and threats, including pollution (e.g., heavy metals, chemicals, trash), shipping, energy exploration, commercial fishing, extreme weather events, strandings, subsistence harvesting, and other types of human disturbance such as underwater noise. The Cook Inlet population faces additional threats because of its proximity to the most densely populated area of Alaska (Anchorage) during the summer season.
Beluga whales are susceptible to habitat destruction and degradation. This can range from physical barriers that limit their access to important migration, breeding, feeding, or calving areas, to activities that destroy or degrade their habitats. Physical barriers may include shoreline and offshore development (oil and gas exploration, dredging, pile driving) and increased boat traffic. Contaminant releases may also degrade habitat.
Contaminants enter ocean waters from many sources, including oil and gas development, wastewater discharges, urban runoff, and other industrial processes. Once in the environment, these substances move up the food chain and accumulate in predators at the top of the food chain such as beluga whales. Because of their long lifespan and blubber stores, belugas accumulate these contaminants in their bodies, threatening their immune and reproductive systems.
Overfishing and habitat changes can decrease the amount of food available to beluga whales. Without enough prey, they might experience decreased reproductive rates and increased mortality rates. Understanding the potential for food limitations to hinder population recovery is especially important for Cook Inlet beluga whales because they live in an area with high human activity.
Live strandings occur when marine mammals become "beached" or stuck in shallow water. The cause of most stranding cases is unknown. Belugas may strand when molting (to avoid predation or other threats, such as noise and vessel traffic), when chasing prey, or when suffering from injuries or disease. Unlike other whales and dolphins, healthy belugas that live-strand are usually able to refloat and swim to deeper water during the next high tide. Unfortunately, belugas have died after stranding on their sides and inhaling muddy water. Larger belugas with compromised immune systems also may not survive stranding through a tidal cycle.
Underwater noise pollution interrupts the normal behavior of beluga whales, which rely on sound to communicate and echolocate. If loud enough, noise can cause permanent or temporary hearing loss. This is of particular concern for the Cook Inlet population, which inhabits an area with high vessel traffic, oil and gas exploration and development, dredging and pile-driving, military operations, and other noise-making anthropogenic (human-caused) activities.
In the Spotlight
Cook Inlet Beluga Whale
The Cook Inlet beluga whale is one of NOAA Fisheries' Species in the Spotlight. This initiative is a concerted, agency-wide effort to spotlight and save the most highly at-risk marine species.
Beluga whales are highly social, gregarious animals. They squeal, squeak, and chirp, which is why sailors long ago called them “sea canaries.” Of the five Alaskan stocks, the Cook Inlet beluga stock is the smallest and most isolated from other beluga whales.
Cook Inlet belugas were once a valuable part of the regional Alaska Native subsistence diet, but their population has declined rapidly—most likely because of unregulated subsistence harvest at a level that this small population could not sustain. Although the hunt has been suspended since 2005, the whale population has not recovered as expected.
In 2000, NOAA Fisheries designated the Cook Inlet beluga whale population as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. We then listed them as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2008. The rapid decline and dire status of the Cook Inlet beluga whale population makes it a priority for NOAA Fisheries and its partners to stabilize and prevent extinction of this iconic species.
Where Cook Inlet Beluga Whales Live
Cook Inlet beluga whales share the upper and middle portions of Cook Inlet with Alaska’s human population center (Anchorage), transportation hub, and largest concentration of industrial activity. Generally, belugas spend the ice-free months in upper Cook Inlet, often in discrete, high-use areas with plenty of fish. They then head south to the deeper waters of middle Cook Inlet in winter, but may be found anywhere in Cook Inlet at any time of year.
The population has declined by nearly 75 percent since 1979—from about 1,300 whales to around 330 today.
Beluga whales exhibit seasonal shifts in distribution and habitat use within Cook Inlet, but they stay in the inlet throughout their lives. The whales’ seasonal shifts appear to be related to corresponding changes in their physical environment (e.g., ice and currents) and food sources, specifically the timing of fish runs.
The summer range of Cook Inlet belugas has changed significantly since the 1970s, contracting northward and eastward toward Anchorage in upper Cook Inlet. This range contraction coincided with the population’s rapid decline. The reason for the Cook Inlet beluga’s distribution change is unknown, but it puts a larger portion of the endangered population near the most densely populated area of the state during the busy summer season, when boating, construction, and other human activities all increase.
The whales’ summer core range is extremely silty due to the glaciers that feed into upper Cook Inlet, limiting their visibility in the water. Their adept use of sound is thus essential to communicate, locate prey, avoid predators, and navigate. Cook Inlet is a naturally noisy environment because of its extreme tides and heavy silt load. Adding human sounds from ship traffic, construction projects, oil and gas activities, and other sources can make it more difficult for belugas to thrive.
Especially loud underwater sounds can kill marine mammals, but sublethal effects are more common, including injury or behavioral changes that range from mild (e.g., increased vocalizations) to severe (e.g., abandonment of vital habitat). Thus, assessing and managing the effects of human-caused noise is a major issue for the conservation and recovery of Cook Inlet beluga whales.
NOAA Fisheries formed a recovery team of scientists and stakeholders to help develop a Cook Inlet beluga whale recovery plan, which was finalized in December 2016. The recovery plan (PDF, 284 pages) builds upon scientific studies, traditional knowledge, and other observations and information sources to identify gaps in our knowledge and the research needed to fill those gaps. The recovery plan also identifies specific criteria that will signal the recovery of these animals.
Threats that could potentially limit recovery of Cook Inlet beluga whales include:
Catastrophic events (natural disasters, spills, and mass strandings).
Habitat loss or degradation.
Prey reduction (eulachon and salmon).
Disease agents (pathogens, parasites, and harmful algal blooms).
Unauthorized take and trauma.
Hunting, poaching, or intentional harassment.
Cumulative and synergistic effects of multiple stressors.
While developing the draft recovery plan, NOAA Fisheries reached out to all parties with interests in these whales, including local governments in the Cook Inlet area, Alaska Native co-management partners, the oil and gas industry, fishing groups, environmental organizations, the state of Alaska, and other federal agencies. We will continue to involve stakeholders in this priority species initiative as the plan’s key strategies for preventing extinction are implemented over the coming years.
In 2016, we also completed a Species in the Spotlight 5-year plan of action for the Cook Inlet beluga whale that builds on the recovery plan and details the focused efforts that are needed over the next 5 years.
All beluga whales are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, with the Sakhalin Bay-Nikolaya Bay-Amur River stock and the Cook Inlet stock considered to be depleted. Only the Cook Inlet beluga whale population is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
In the United States, NOAA Fisheries works to protect all beluga whale populations living off the coastlines, bays, and rivers of Alaska. This includes monitoring subsistence harvests and conducting abundance and distribution surveys. Additional management strategies and oversight are required for the endangered Cook Inlet population.
Recovery Planning and Implementation
NOAA Fisheries is required to develop and implement recovery plans for the conservation and survival of ESA-listed species. The Cook Inlet beluga whale recovery plan builds upon both scientific studies and traditional knowledge from Alaska Natives. The plan’s ultimate goal is to recover the species, with an interim goal of down-listing its status from endangered to threatened.
The plan recommends the following major actions:
Protect habitat and designate critical habitat.
Minimize the effects of noise disturbance.
Respond to stranded beluga whales.
Implement oil spill response plans in the event of a spill.
Review projects that could harm beluga whales.
Manage subsistence harvests.
Educate the public about belugas and the threats they face.
The ESA authorizes NOAA Fisheries to appoint recovery teams to help develop and implement recovery plans. In 2010, we convened a recovery team to aide in the development of a draft recovery plan for Cook Inlet beluga whales. The recovery team was composed of two voluntary advisory groups: a science panel and a stakeholder panel. In 2013, the recovery team provided a first draft of the recovery plan and the team disbanded. NOAA Fisheries solicited review and public comment on the draft recovery plan and released a final plan in December 2016.
Some efforts to conserve the Cook Inlet beluga whale include:
- Continued monitoring of the status of the Cook Inlet population and developing a greater understanding of their biology.
- Improving our understanding of the effects of threats to Cook Inlet belugas.
- Improving the management of threats to reduce or eliminate the effect of those threats.
- Integrating research findings into current and future management actions.
- Keeping the public informed and educated about the status of Cook Inlet belugas, the threats limiting their recovery, and how the public can help achieve recovery of these whales.
NOAA Fisheries will continue to involve stakeholders in this priority species initiative as the plan’s key strategies for preventing extinction are implemented over the coming years.
Recovery Implementation Task Force
NOAA Fisheries and the State of Alaska, Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) recognize that successful recovery of Cook Inlet belugas (CIB) will require a multifaceted approach, including: understanding and monitoring the Cook Inlet beluga population (i.e., research); assessing, preventing, mitigating or abating threats to the population’s recovery (i.e., habitat and threats management); and garnering public support through improved outreach and education. In an effort to promote recovery, the CIB Recovery Implementation Task Force includes three distinct committees which will focus on each of these general topics: a) Research Committee; b) Habitat and Threats Management Committee; and c) Outreach Committee. The primary role of the Committees is to engage the expertise of researchers, managers, communicators, and various other stakeholders to advise NOAA Fisheries and ADF&G on specific topics or issues relating to CIB recovery. The Committees will provide guidance and recommendations for most effective recovery action implementation based on existing and new data and commercial information, as it becomes available, and will help prioritize limited resources to make the most difference in achieving recovery. The focus will be on short-term actions that can be completed in the next 2-5 years without losing sight of the importance of long-term projects and research.
- Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Recovery Implementation Task Force Committees and Members
- Terms of Reference (PDF, 10 pages)
Critical Habitat Designation
Once a species is listed under the ESA, NOAA Fisheries evaluates and identifies whether any areas meet the definition of critical habitat. Those areas may be designated as critical habitat through a rulemaking process. The designation of an area as critical habitat does not create a closed area, marine protected area, refuge, wilderness reserve, preservation, or other conservation area; nor does the designation affect land ownership. Federal agencies that undertake, fund, or permit activities that may affect these designated critical habitat areas are required to consult with NOAA Fisheries to ensure that their actions do not adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat.
In 2011, we designated two areas of Cook Inlet as critical habitat because they are essential for the beluga whales’ survival. These areas provide important feeding habitats and places where belugas can hide from their predators, killer whales.
Addressing Ocean Noise
Underwater noise threatens beluga whale populations, interrupting their normal behavior and driving them away from areas important to their survival. Increasing evidence suggests that exposure to intense underwater sound in some settings may cause some whales to strand and ultimately die. NOAA Fisheries is investigating all aspects of acoustic communication and hearing in marine animals, as well as the effects of sound on whale behavior and hearing. In 2016, we issued technical guidance for assessing the effects of anthropogenic (human-caused) sound on marine mammal hearing.
In Cook Inlet, Alaska, we review permits for anthropogenic activities and suggest ways to decrease the amount of noise they create. We also set in-water construction guidelines that outline which noise levels are harmful to beluga whales. We aim to develop a database to store information about underwater sound in Cook Inlet.
Overseeing Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response
We work with volunteer networks in all coastal states to respond to marine mammal strandings including small whales. When stranded animals are found alive, NOAA Fisheries and our partners assess the animal’s health. When stranded animals are found dead, our scientists work to understand and investigate the cause of death. Although the cause often remains unknown, scientists can sometimes identify strandings due to disease, harmful algal blooms, vessel strikes, fishing gear entanglements, pollution exposure, and underwater noise. Some strandings can serve as indicators of ocean health, giving insight into larger environmental issues that may also have implications for human health and welfare.
After the Cook Inlet beluga whale was listed as endangered in 2008, we developed a Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Stranding Response Plan (PDF, 52 pages) to address strandings of these critically endangered animals.
Reducing Effects from Oil and Gas Activities
Cook Inlet beluga whales live near oil and gas exploration and production activities. Impacts from these activities include increased ship traffic, oil spills, pollution, seismic research, in-water noise, and habitat degradation. To reduce the risk of oil spills, Alaska’s Division of Spill Prevention and Response created an oil and hazardous substance spill plan called the "Unified Plan". NOAA Fisheries helped write the plan’s Wildlife Protection Guidelines (PDF, 194 pages) to ensure they protect belugas and marine mammals, as well as other wildlife in Cook Inlet.
Managing Subsistence Harvest
The MMPA allows NOAA Fisheries to enter cooperative agreements with Alaska Native organizations to conserve marine mammals and co-manage subsistence activities, including beluga whale hunts. Alaska Natives hunt beluga whales for subsistence and traditional handicrafts. Belugas are both a food source and a significant part of the cultural and spiritual basis of Native communities.
Notably, past harvest practices have significantly impacted the Cook Inlet beluga whale population. NOAA Fisheries is working with Native communities to implement regulations that limit the number of belugas harvested in Cook Inlet, thus providing continued opportunity for traditional subsistence activities while also allowing the population to recover. Between 1999 and 2005, Alaska Natives only took five Cook Inlet beluga whales through subsistence harvest before it was suspended entirely.
Educating the Public
NOAA Fisheries aims to increase public awareness and support for beluga conservation programs through education, outreach, and public participation. We regularly share information with the public about the status of belugas, as well as our research and efforts to promote their recovery.
All marine mammals, including beluga whales, are protected in the United States under the MMPA. One population of beluga whales—the Cook Inlet beluga—is listed as endangered under the ESA.
Beluga Populations Managed under the MMPA
In 2000, NOAA Fisheries designated the Cook Inlet stock as depleted under the MMPA in response to a significant population decline. We also took steps to restrict subsistence harvest of Cook Inlet belugas. Only five whales were harvested between 1999 and 2005, and no subsistence harvest of this population has been allowed since 2006. In 2008, we developed a conservation plan for the Cook Inlet beluga whale.
The Sakhalin Bay-Nikolaya Bay-Amur River stock off the coast of Russia was also designated as depleted under the MMPA in 2016.
Beluga Population Managed under the ESA
In 2008, the Cook Inlet population was listed as endangered under the ESA. We designated critical habitat for this population in 2011 and released a final recovery plan in December 2016.
In February 2017, we completed a 5-year status review of the Cook Inlet beluga population.
Regulatory Actions & Documents
- Notice of Availability (82 FR 1325, 01/05/2017)
- Availability of Draft Recovery Plan (80 FR 27925, 05/15/2015)
- Notice of Intent (75 FR 4528, January 28, 2010)
Designation the Sakhalin Bay-Nikolaya Bay-Amur River Stock of Beluga Whales as Depleted under the MMPA
- Final Rule (81 FR 74711)
- Proposed Rule (81 FR 19542)
- 60-day Finding (79 FR 44733)
- Notice of Petition (79 FR 28879)
- Final rule (76 FR 20179, 04/11/2011)
- Notice of public hearings (75 FR 3191, 01/20/2010)
- Proposed rule; extension of public comment period (75 FR 1582, 01/12/2010)
- Proposed rule (74 FR 63080, 12/02/2009)
- Advance notice of proposed rulemaking (74 FR 17131, 04/14/2009)
NOAA Fisheries scientists are leading the effort to answer key questions about beluga whales, with a special focus on the Cook Inlet population. Current research includes studies of beluga whale behavior, ecology, health, distribution, and population trends.
NOAA Fisheries scientists and their collaborators track location data from satellite tags deployed on whales to determine their movements, distribution, diving behavior, and range. In Alaska, scientists and Native subsistence hunters have worked together to place satellite tags on belugas.
From 1999 to 2002, we attached satellite tags to belugas in Cook Inlet and observed their year-round distribution for the first time. Tag data showed changes in beluga behavior. During the ice-covered period (December to May), tagged whales did not leave the upper Cook Inlet and remained within the ice floes. Whales with dive-monitoring tags also began to dive deeper and for longer periods. These long-term survey studies show that the seasonal range of the beluga whales in Cook Inlet has contracted since the early 1990s as the size of the population has decreased.
From 2007 to 2009, scientists from the United States, Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Russia worked together to track beluga movements and habits throughout arctic and subarctic waters using satellite tags. This international project helped us learn more about the behavior and life history of belugas.
NOAA Fisheries conducts observational studies using photo-identification and other techniques to understand the behavior and population dynamics of beluga whales, as well as threats against them.
The Cook Inlet Beluga Whale (CIBW) Photo-ID Project began in 2005 and continues to the present day, conducting surveys of Cook Inlet belugas and developing a photo-identification catalog of individuals. The data collected helped us learn more about individual movement patterns, preferred habitat, social structure, how often individual mothers give birth, and how long calves remain with their mothers. The CIBW Photo-ID Project was established and developed through funding from a combination of NGOs, industry, agencies, research foundations and Tribes, including from NOAA Fisheries beginning in 2012. Data from the project are shared with the public and with project partners, including NOAA Fisheries who is currently using them in population models. NOAA Fisheries is also contributing photos to the catalog from their recent biopsy and hexacopter studies, and in exchange, receiving data on the long-term sighting histories of these individuals.
Learn more about the Cook Inlet beluga whale photo-identification project
In 2017, scientists began using hexacopters (aerial drones) to collect photographs of the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale to estimate the length of individual animals and learn more about why they have been slow to recover despite many efforts to help them. Knowing the length of the whales helps scientists determine whether they are adults, juveniles, or calves. Beluga whales give birth from late July to September. By doing hexacopter photography surveys each year in late August or early September, we hope to monitor calf production and compare that to environmental factors, such as the strength of salmon runs in a given year—an important food source for belugas.
Measuring Pollutants and Spills
NOAA Fisheries scientists and their collaborators collect tissue samples to study the chemicals that belugas are exposed to in Cook Inlet. Our scientists also test whether pollutants and oil spills affect the fish that belugas eat. This research helps us understand the threats that belugas and their prey face when harmful substances are spilled in Cook Inlet.
Other research focuses on the acoustic environment of cetaceans, including beluga whales. Acoustics is the science of how sound is transmitted. This research involves increasing our understanding of the basic acoustic behavior of whales, dolphins, and fish; mapping the acoustic environment; and developing better methods to locate cetaceans using autonomous gliders and passive acoustic arrays.
We use acoustic science to monitor beluga hearing levels and feeding behavior. We also study how underwater noise in Cook Inlet affects the way belugas behave, eat, interact, and move within their habitat.
Scientists use small aircraft to observe beluga whales in Cook Inlet and other regions in Alaska to record their numbers and distribution. Surveys typically occur during the summer months when whales are concentrated in bays and estuaries within their respective stock areas. By comparing numbers collected over multiple years, scientists can look for trends—i.e., whether the population is increasing, decreasing, or remaining stable during a given period.
Aerial surveys, along with satellite tagging studies, have documented thatCook Inlet beluga whales have contracted their distribution into a much smaller area in the upper inlet during summer months than had been previously observed in the late 1970s—important information for wildlife managers.
Determining the number of beluga whales in each population—and whether a stock is increasing or decreasing over time—helps resource managers assess the success of enacted conservation measures. Our scientists collect information and present these data in an annual stock assessment report.
Alaska Fisheries Science Center Beluga Research
Recent Science Blogs
Biological Opinion - Issuance of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Permit and Incidental Harassment Authorization for Harvest Alaska LLC Cook Inlet Pipeline Cross-Inlet Extension Project
This Opinion considers the effects to ESA-listed species from the proposed issuance of an…
Report from November 29-30, 2017 Workshop
Acoustic Foraging Behavior of Beluga Whales Via Combined Technology: Satellite Telemetry, Passive Acoustics, Accelerometry, and Stomach Temperature Sensing (Abstract)
Poster for Marine Mammal Syposium
Data & Maps
Acoustic Monitoring and Prey Association for Beluga Whale, Delphinapterus leucas, and Harbor Porpoise, Phocoena phocoena, off Two River Mouths in Yakutat Bay, Alaska
Yakutat Bay on the eastern Gulf of Alaska is a glacial fjord influenced by the activity of major…
This report describes field activities of the Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM)…
This report describes field activities of the Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM)…
Traditional Knowledge and Historical and Opportunistic Sightings of Beluga Whales in Yakutat Bay, Alaska, 1938–2013
A study of beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) sightings and knowledge in Yakutat Bay, Alaska.
Acoustic Monitoring and Prey Association for Beluga Whale and Harbor Porpoise off Two River Mouths in Yakutat Bay, Alaska
Research on the ecology of beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) and harbor porpoises (Phocoena…
Outreach & Education
Protecting and recovering marine species is a core mission for NOAA Fisheries. As part of a …