New Abundance Estimate for Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Released by NOAA

NOAA scientists from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center has announced that the 2012 abundance estimate for the endangered Cook Inlet Beluga Whale population is 312 , which is a small increase from the previous year.

Over the past decade, the population for the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale has varied from 278 to 366. The overall population trend for the whales has not been recovering, with a decline at an annual average rate of 0.6 percent, putting the whales in danger of extinction in the near future.

For scientists, the year-to-year changes in population estimates are less important than the long-term trend. Estimates can vary from year to year based on different sighting or survey conditions, weather, or changes in beluga behavior or distribution.

"A group of belugas was observed just offshore of West Foreland swimming north into upper Cook Inlet. Beluga whales have not been observed in this area during our surveys since 2001," said Kim Shelden, a NOAA scientist and chief scientist on the survey. "This group of 12 to 21 whales then moved into Trading Bay where they remained for the duration of the survey, not far from the mouth of the McArthur River. Groups of this size have not been seen during our beluga whale surveys south of North Foreland since 1995."

Scientists with NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center conduct aerial surveys of Cook Inlet in June of every year. From a small plane with bubble windows, scientists look for and count the beluga whales, and make video recordings of the whale groups. The video and observer counts are analyzed to produce the annual estimate.

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