NOAA Fisheries News Releases
October 6, 2009
Sheela McLean, Public Affairs
NOAA REPORTS LATEST COOK INLET BELUGA POPULATION ESTIMATE
Abundance estimates for belugas in Cook Inlet with 95% confidence intervals (vertical bars). In the years since a hunting quota was in place (1999-2009), the rate of decline (red trend line) has been -1.49% per year.
The endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale population is not showing recovery, according to NOAA Fisheries Service’s latest annual survey and estimate. NOAA scientists, analyzing recent population estimates, find a continued trend of gradual population decline.
Scientists conducted aerial surveys in early June during fish migrations, when belugas concentrate near river mouths. Between June 2 and June 9, they flew over Cook Inlet counting the beluga whales while also taking photographs and video.
Later, scientists carefully examined the images to provide a more accurate estimate of the beluga whale population in Cook Inlet this year — 321 beluga whales. For both 2007 and 2008, the estimate was 375 whales.
NOAA Fisheries Service declared the Cook Inlet beluga population depleted in 2000 under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. However, the population did not recover as predicted, and the population was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2008.
The Cook Inlet beluga population estimates since 1994 are:
Cook Inlet belugas are one of five beluga populations recognized within U.S. waters. The other populations summer in Bristol Bay, the eastern Bering Sea, the eastern Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea. The Cook Inlet population is considered the most isolated, based on the degree of genetic differentiation and the geographic distance between the Cook Inlet population and the four other beluga populations, which are not listed as endangered or threatened.
NOAA Fisheries Service is scheduled to propose designating areas of critical habitat for Cook Inlet beluga whales later this month.
For more information about beluga whales in Alaska, visit: alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/protectedresources/whales/beluga.htm.
NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources. Visit www.noaa.gov. To learn more about NOAA Fisheries in Alaska, visit alaskafisheries.noaa.gov or: www.afsc.noaa.gov.