Team

Citizen Scientists

Our volunteers are the most important members of our team. Thank you all for taking time out of your life to get out there rain, shine, wind, and snow to monitor for Cook Inlet belugas.

Youth ambassador

Brianna is our first youth ambassador joining us during our fall 2021 season. She attends high school in the Anchorage School District and has aspirations to be a wildlife biologist. Both of her parents are biologists in Alaska so from an early age she has experienced all that offers. She attended her first scientific conference when she was learning to walk, watched sea otter necropsies as a toddler and helped with whale stranding responses in elementary school.  She enjoys traveling to see new ecosystems and has spent time in the Galapagos, the Amazon basin & Europe. She spends her free time with her teams Nordic skiing and cross-country running. If you are a student or teacher that wishes to work with Brianna to monitor with AKBMP, set up a school program, or have her come visit your school to talk about belugas please contact verena.gill@noaa.gov.

Program Manager and Data Analyst

Madison Kosma earned a B.S. in marine biology from the University of Hawai’i, Manoa and worked at the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology. In 2012, she followed the whales to their northern feeding grounds in Sitka, Alaska for a position at the Sitka Sound Science Center and remained with the organization for 4 years as the director of Sitka WhaleFest and science outreach coordinator. She has been involved in whale research in Southeast Alaska since 2012 and has extensive experience working with the humpback whale population. Madison Kosma graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2019 where she earned her M.S. in fisheries. Her work focused on foraging tactics of humpback whales feeding near salmon hatchery-release sites. After graduation she was an Alaska Sea Grant Fellow with the NOAA, Protected Resources Division (Anchorage) where she first got involved with belugas and our partnership. Currently, she is a NOAA contractor working as our Coordinator.

Partners

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 Kenai Peninsula College.

Teresa Becher, AKBMP’s middle inlet coordinator, is a Natural Sciences major at the University of Alaska, Anchorage with a focus on pre-veterinary medicine.  She retired from the California Highway Patrol in 2014 after twenty-five years of service as a peace officer and moved to Soldotna Alaska to start a new life adventure. She loves animals and has spent most of her adult life working with dog and cat rescue groups, in addition to caring for her many pets.  Teresa has a previous bachelor’s degree in Government but returned to college to pursue a degree in the sciences.  In the last year she has been given the opportunity to monitor beluga whales on the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers through the Alaska Beluga Monitoring Partnership, AWA and the Kenai Peninsula College and has been the Kenai coordinator for AKBMP since Spring 2019.  When she is not monitoring beluga whales or studying, she is hiking with her dogs, exploring Alaska, and working as a volunteer on various research projects related to marine ecology.


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 in the Upper Inlet and facilitate shore-based beluga monitoring with AKBMP at Ship Creek (co-host with Defenders), Mile Marker 95.3 Pullout, and at the Twentymile River.

Suzanne D. Steinert is the Founder & President of Beluga Whale Alliance (BWA), a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that supports the local and global conservation of beluga whales. A Raffi ‘beluga grad,’ she holds a formal graduate degree in Conservation Biology from Miami University’s Global Field Program where she explored community-based strategies to save endangered species and combat the global extinction crisis. Living and working as a naturalist and tour guide alongside Cook Inlet’s critically endangered belugas and recognizing the need for locals to participate in their conservation inspired her to launch BWA in 2017. That year, she also designed and implemented a self-funded project on the Twentymile River engaging community observers in monitoring beluga activity and working with boaters to balance human and beluga use of the river during the busy salmon run. AKBMP is a key component of BWA’s ‘glocal’ work to support the survival of not only our backyard belugas, but the worldwide conservation of this iconic species. In addition to spearheading BWA’s day-to-day operations, you can find her out beluga watching along Turnagain Arm near BWA’s field base, where she’s locally known as ‘the beluga girl.’


DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE ALASKA

Defenders of Wildlife is a national non-profit conservation organization that is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. 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. Cook Inlet belugas have become one of the Defenders’ Alaska team’s priority species. Defenders is co-hosting the Ship Creek monitoring site in Anchorage alongside Beluga Whale Alliance.

Katy Bear joined Defenders of Wildlife in 2019 as the Alaska Marine Representative. Katy works to provide science support and rationale to our marine advocacy efforts. Jen Christopherson has also been working with Defenders of Wildlife since 2019, as our Alaska Outreach Coordinator.

Defenders’ focus on imperiled and endangered wildlife fits with AKBMP. They speak with one voice informed by scientific, legal and policy expertise, hands-on wildlife management experience and effective advocacy. By partnering with AKBMP Defenders’ can work to achieve these goals through monitoring Cook Inlet belugas, analyzing the collected data, and participating in outreach and educational events. Some examples of  Defenders’ educational programs can be found on AKBMP’s website under the “Resources” tab.


Kenai Peninsula COLLEGE

Kenai Peninsula College (KPC) is a community campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage. KPC undergraduate students have actively participated in beluga monitoring since AKBMP’s first field season in Fall 2019. KPC and Kachemak Bay Campus (KBC) became involved with AKBMP in order to support biology majors, Semester by the Bay students and community members with interests in marine and conservation biology, and to support agencies working tirelessly to better understand CI belugas in order to aid in their conservation and protection. KPC’s Professor Debbie Tobin co-hosts AKBMP beluga monitoring efforts in the lower Kenai and Kasilof Rivers with the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.

Dr. Debbie Boege Tobin, a professor at the Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College – University of Alaska Anchorage since 2006 and coordinator of the Semester by the Bay program, has been working with and educating others about belugas on/off for over 25 years. After her Masters, she worked at the Shedd Aquarium where she assisted with captive beluga acoustics. Shortly after arriving in Homer, Alaska she and her students have been involved with harbor porpoise, and humpback, killer, gray and beluga whale photo ID projects, occasional acoustic studies, citizen science monitoring and the local marine mammal stranding network.


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).

Verena Gill is a Supervisory Biologist and oversees the Cook Inlet beluga whale recovery efforts for the Alaska Region of NOAA Fisheries. She graduated with a Masters of Science focusing on marine biology from the University of Alaska in 1999. Before joining NOAA Fisheries in 2016, she worked at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Marine Mammals Management, and the U. S. Geological Survey – Alaska Science Center. Her hobbies are trail running, skate and downhill skiing, exploring ridgelines, and fat tire biking.  To find out more about her work go to her ResearchGate website.


Collaborators

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.


Become a Partner

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 Coordinator.

Past team members

Kim Ovitz spearheaded the creation and launch of the Alaska Beluga Monitoring Partnership in 2019 and was the coordinator for 2019.