Alaska’s fishery managers are big advocates of citizen scientists helping to collect data and share insights.
On Saturday, the first annual Belugas Count! event invites whale lovers to help count belugas in Upper Cook Inlet.
“There are five different stocks of belugas in Alaska and the Cook Inlet stock is extremely isolated and very small. The Cook Inlet beluga population numbered around 1,300 animals in the 1970s; right now they are estimating just around 300 or so.”
Bob Shavelson is outreach advocate for Cook Inletkeeper, which has been tracking belugas for NOAA Fisheries for a decade.
From nine to noon shoreside counts will occur at 12 stations in Turnagain and Knik Arm using both binoculars and aerial survey videos. From noon to 5 p.m., the Alaska Zoo will feature beluga-related booths; the total beluga tally will be announced at the Zoo at the end of the day.
The free event is a collaboration between NOAA Fisheries, state agencies and groups to bring more awareness to the whales that have been on the endangered species list since the 1970s.
“They are really in a precarious position. There is so much change going on with the climate and we’re seeing such changes in our ocean and stream temperatures and with melting glaciers. We need to do everything we can to adopt a cautionary approach.”
Shavelson also criticizes the push back on clean water laws by the current Congress and the Trump Administration, and points out that Cook Inlet belugas are not bouncing back as scientists predicted they would.
“We’ve seen virtually no change in industrial activity in Upper Cook Inlet as a result of the whales being placed on the endangered species list. The municipality of Anchorage is still dumping up to 30 million gallons a day of treated sewage into beluga habitat.”