On Saturday, NOAA Fisheries Alaska is organizing its first ever citizen beluga count in Cook Inlet.
There will be a dozen viewing spots along Knik and Turnagain arms. Each will have NOAA staff or volunteers with binoculars and spotting scopes for the public to use.
Julie Speegle of NOAA’s Juneau headquarters is in Anchorage coordinating the event.
“It’s part of our recovery plan,” Speegle said. “One of the actions in our recovery plan is to have a citizen science count day for beluga whales. And so this is one of those actions that we’re doing to bring public awareness to the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales and efforts to recover them.”
Before collapsing in the mid-1990s, there were upwards of 1,300 belugas in Cook Inlet. Based on the most recent survey, conducted in 2016, there are an estimated 328 left today.
The beluga count on Saturday morning is only part of what Speegle called “a beluga festival.” From noon to 5 p.m. there will be activities at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage.
“And there will be informational booths, a beluga skeleton, the mayor will be there making a proclamation, and we’ll have 20-minute talks on the hour about Cook Inlet beluga whales,” Speegle said. “It’s going to be a great event, and we’re hoping a lot of people will come and join us.”
Those talks will cover beluga life spans, the population’s status and trends, and an update on the beluga photo ID project in Cook Inlet.