24 January 2012 Cook Inlet Beluga Count is Second-Lowest on Record Posted by: Caitlin Leutwiler | Leave a comment | Share: Isolated from other beluga populations, Cook Inlet beluga whales are particularly vulnerable to population loss. January brought some disappointing news for Cook Inlet belugas when scientists from NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center announced the 2011 estimate for the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale population. The estimate numbered only 284 animals, almost 20 percent lower than last year’s estimate of 340 whales. The number is the second-lowest since NOAA’s surveys began in 1993; the lowest was in 2005, when the estimate was 278 whales. Cook Inlet belugas represent one of Alaska’s five beluga populations. Separated from the others by the Alaska Peninsula, the geographic barrier makes the Cook Inlet belugas genetically distinct from the state’s other beluga whales, and therefore particularly vulnerable to population loss. The whale was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2008, and last April, the Obama administration designated critical habitat for the species. But despite these protections, the Cook Inlet population has failed to recover, and a 20 percent loss of the population could be a devastating blow. The low numbers are alarming. And since these whales live in one of the most populated–and fastest growing–regions in Alaska, survival won’t get any easier. Scientists aren’t convinced the low estimate is entirely accurate. The count is taken from a small airplane that flies above the inlet, with live sightings compared to video footage taken at the same time. Different sighting or survey conditions, weather, or changes in beluga behavior or distribution from year to year can affect the survey results. Defenders' Karla Dutton serves on the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Recovery Team Still, the low numbers are alarming. And since these whales live in one of the most populated–and fastest growing–regions in Alaska, survival won’t get any easier. Defenders is committed to helping Cook Inlet beluga whales recover. We garnered record support for the whale’s endangered listing and critical habitat designation, and Alaska director Karla Dutton currently serves on the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Recovery Team for the National Marine Fisheries Service, working on a recovery plan for this unique “canary of the sea.” You can help Cook Inlet beluga whales too! Click here for more information on how to become a trained citizen scientist for the Anchorage Coastal Beluga Survey. Post Your Comment Click here to cancel reply. Name (required) Mail (required) (will not be published) You May also be interested in Wolf Weekly Wrap-Up Helicopter gunning kills 23 wolves in Idaho; Urge Secretary Jewell to abandon gray wolf delisting proposal — Call your representative by March 14; Washington wildlife agency urged to end support for abolishing federal wolf protections; The latest on Governor Otter’s wolf control board. Two Too Many Development Projects in the Ivanpah Valley While these projects most definitely directly impact a species that has been identified as threatened and is dependent on the habitat where they would be built, Silver State South and Stateline’s approval is most troubling for a bigger reason. You see, this isn’t just an issue for the Ivanpah Valley. Developers and agencies need to be conscious of how and where they plan energy projects all across the country. They need to look at renewable energy planning with a landscape-wide lens, understanding that building in the right places and making an effort to minimize environmental impacts from the start are essential. California’s Rim Fire: Opportunities Rise from the Ashes After California’s devastating Rim Fire, will officials take the opportunity to give nature a chance to fully recover?