The Alaska Beluga Monitoring Partnership (AKBMP) is a collaboration between several organizations that offer opportunities for volunteer citizen scientists to contribute to endangered beluga monitoring efforts in Alaska’s Cook Inlet. Together we design standardized scientific monitoring protocols, train volunteers to support monitoring efforts, and coordinate shore-based beluga monitoring activities at various sites throughout Cook Inlet.
Our first collaborative monitoring season took place in fall 2019 (mid-August to mid-November) and was a huge success thanks to all of our wonderful collaborators and volunteers! Now we are getting read for our first spring monitoring season beginning in mid-March 2020. During these seasons, our partner organizations monitor beluga activity from our established monitoring sites at the base of Ship Creek, Bird Point, Twentymile River, Kenai River, and Kasilof River. For exact locations and directions to our monitoring sites check out our resources page.
As a citizen science monitoring volunteer you can collect important data on beluga distribution and habitat use in nearshore waters while building working relationships with professional researchers and scientists. The data you collect will be shared with researchers and federal agency personnel to inform ongoing marine mammal research and management activities and will be incorporated into NOAA’s Beluga Sightings Databases.
What is Citizen Science?
Citizen science is a form of open collaboration where members of the public participate in the scientific process to address real-world problems in ways that include identifying research questions, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting results, making new discoveries, developing technologies and applications, and solving complex problems (Source: NOAA).
The Cook Inlet beluga is an important part of our regional ecosystem and is critically endangered. Following a rapid decline in abundance during the 1980s -1990s, the federal government designated the Cook Inlet beluga population as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in 2002 and endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2008. Although no longer the target of commercial or subsistence harvest, the Cook Inlet beluga population has not recovered since being ESA-listed and it continues to face a number of ongoing human-caused threats. While scientists and researchers have studied this population since the 1970s, data on beluga distribution and seasonal habitat use throughout Cook Inlet is still lacking. By participating in ongoing monitoring efforts, you can help fill existing knowledge gaps and contribute to beluga recovery.
Where We Monitor
We monitor at known beluga feeding areas, including the lower reaches and mouths of several rivers and streams that flow into Cook Inlet. During the ice-free months belugas intensively feed on anadromous fish and other prey at these sites, often during the rising tide which provides belugas great access to shallower habitat. These nearshore areas also support a number of human activities (such as boating and fishing) that have been linked to whale disturbance at other sites. Monitoring at known feeding areas improves our likelihood of observing beluga activity during our planned monitoring sessions, provides us an opportunity to gather data on beluga feeding ecology, and enables us to identify potential stressors that belugas may be exposed to during key feeding periods. Click here to see a list of our current monitoring sites.
Support for this partnership and associated projects is provided by the National Marine Fisheries Service and by our non-profit partners.