NOAA Fisheries and partners invite public to help count Cook Inlet beluga whales

August 31, 2017
Julie Speegle, 907-586-7032

Beluga whales are dark gray as young calves, then gradually turn lighter gray as they get older, and eventually become white as adults. Photo: Paul Wade, NOAA Fisheries

Beluga whales are one of Alaska’s iconic marine mammals. That’s why NOAA Fisheries and partners invite members of the public to participate in conserving the endangered population in Cook Inlet in a new event called “Belugas Count!” —being held Saturday, September 9, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., in the greater Anchorage area.

From 9 a.m. to noon, members of the public are invited to help spot and count Cook Inlet beluga whales at 12 staffed stations along Turnagain and Knik Arms. For specific station locations and directions, visit the Belugas Count! website: https://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/node/56933

From noon to 5 p.m., people can attend a free Belugas Count! event at the Alaska Zoo, which will be held in the Gateway Building near the zoo entrance. There will be informational booths, including a beluga skeleton, virtual-reality viewing goggles showing beluga habitats, family activities, games, and more. Twenty-minute talks on the hour include Highlights of the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Photo-ID Project and What can listening to Cook Inlet beluga whales tell us?

At 12:30 p.m., Mayor Ethan Berkowitz of Anchorage will be at the Zoo event to proclaim September 9, 2017, as Belugas Count! Day throughout the Municipality of Anchorage. Results of the beluga count from the stations will be tallied throughout the day and announced at 5 p.m.

“Belugas are a big part of what makes Cook Inlet a special place, but they need our help,” said Jim Balsiger, Alaska Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “This event is a great way for the public to get involved and support beluga whale conservation.”

This new, all-day citizen science celebration aims to bring together members of the public to focus on the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale, fostering local pride, awareness, and stewardship. It’s a collaboration among a variety of federal and state agencies, local and national organizations, as well as individuals.

In October 2008, NOAA Fisheries listed Cook Inlet beluga whales as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Scientists estimate there are between 300-400 beluga whales in Cook Inlet.

NOAA Fisheries has designated Cook Inlet beluga whales as one of eight “Species in the Spotlight” — species in need of a concerted effort by individuals, agencies, groups, tribes, institutions, and organizations large and small to survive. The goal is to have partners and interested members of the public work together to recover this species. Belugas Count! is an event designed to do that.

Partners in this event include: NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, The Alaska Zoo, Alaska SeaLife Center, Beluga Whale Alliance, Cook Inlet Beluga Photo-ID Project, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, U.S. Forest Service, Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, University of Alaska Kachemak Bay Campus, and committed individuals.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr and our other social media channels at http://www.noaa.gov/socialmedia.

To learn more about NOAA Fisheries in Alaska, visit alaskafisheries.noaa.gov or www.afsc.noaa.gov.