Citizen science beluga monitoring has been occurring in Cook Inlet for a number of years and began with the Friends of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge’s Beluga Survey (in collaboration with Defenders of Wildlife and NOAA Fisheries) that took place from 2008-2012. By 2017, a new pilot project commenced at the Twentymile River using citizen science to explore beluga and boat activity during anadromous fish runs and by 2018, a similar project was underway at the base of the Kenai River. In June 2019, the Alaska Beluga Monitoring Partnership (AKBMP) formed to establish a better foundation from which to support and strengthen citizen science beluga monitoring efforts and standardize monitoring procedures across new and existing sites. We are currently in the process of identifying additional organizations that may be interested in collaborating with us to facilitate shore-based beluga monitoring in Cook Inlet.
Beluga Whale Alliance
The Beluga Whale Alliance (BWA) is a Girdwood-based nonprofit devoted to the local and worldwide conservation of beluga whales and their Arctic and subarctic habitats through outreach, education, community participation, and research. In their home region of Cook Inlet, Alaska, BWA’s current focus is on encouraging the recovery of the critically endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale. In 2018, BWA began collaborating with NOAA Fisheries, the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Photo-ID Project, and the Four Valleys Community School to organize citizen science beluga monitoring at Alaska’s Twentymile River and along the Turnagain Arm. As an AKBMP collaborator, BWA will continue to implement their Cook Inlet Beluga Citizen Science & Interpretation Project and facilitate shore-based beluga monitoring at Ship Creek, Bird Point, and at the Twentymile River. To learn more about BWA and their citizen science efforts, please visit their website.
Defenders of Wildlife Alaska
Defenders of Wildlife works to protect and restore threatened and endangered species and their habitats throughout the United States. In Alaska, Defenders is working hard to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Tongass National Forest, National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and other key ecosystems from the threats posed by climate change, unsustainable development and unsound wildlife and habitat policies and management practices. This fall, Defenders of Wildlife Alaska will be participating in our endangered beluga monitoring efforts and will be co-hosting our Ship Creek monitoring site in Anchorage alongside Beluga Whale Alliance.
Alaska Wildlife Alliance
Founded in 1978, Alaska Wildlife Alliance (AWA) is Alaska’s oldest wildlife advocacy group and is committed to protecting Alaska’s natural wildlife for its intrinsic value, as well as for the benefit of present and future generations. AWA advocates for the ethical and scientifically sound management of Alaska’s ecosystems and works to advance endangered species conservation, healthy human-wildlife coexistence in urban and rural communities, and preserve important wildlife habitat throughout Alaska. AWA co-hosts AKBMP beluga monitoring efforts in the lower Kenai and Kasilof Rivers with the Gardell Lab at Kenai Peninsula College, Soldotna Campus.
Kenai Peninsula College – Kenai River Campus
Kenai Peninsula College (KPC) is a community campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage. The laboratory of Alison Gardell, an Assistant Professor of Biology at KPC’s Kenai River Campus, is focused on providing undergraduate research opportunities to students who are interested in beluga whale conservation. KPC undergraduate students have actively participated in beluga monitoring since AKBMP’s first field season in Fall 2019. The Gardell lab co-hosts AKBMP beluga monitoring efforts in the lower Kenai and Kasilof Rivers with the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.
National Marine Fisheries Service
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is responsible for the conservation, protection, and recovery of endangered and threatened marine species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), including the Cook Inlet beluga whale. NMFS provides the AKBMP with financial and logistical support, informs the development of our scientific monitoring protocols, and integrates the data we collect during shore-based monitoring efforts into their Cook Inlet Beluga Opportunistic Sightings Database and Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Ecosystem Portal managed by the Alaska Ocean Observing System (AAOS).
Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Photo-ID Project
Ongoing since 2005, the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Photo-ID Project conducts boat-based and shore-based beluga surveys in Upper and Middle Cook Inlet. Using the images they capture, Photo-ID Project researchers identify individual belugas by their natural markings and compile histories of known individuals to enhance our understanding of beluga distribution, habitat use, social structure, and reproduction in Cook Inlet. We share the observational data and photographs collected by AKBMP volunteers with the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Photo-ID Project for inclusion in their Cook Inlet Beluga Sightings Mapper and beluga image catalogue. If you would like to photograph the belugas you observe during AKBMP monitoring sessions and submit them to the Photo-ID Project, please review their Image Capture Guidelines.
Be Part of Our Partnership
If you or your organization is interested in collaborating with us to facilitate citizen science beluga monitoring activities in Cook Inlet, please contact the AKBMP Citizen Science Coordinator here.