NOAA Fisheries has announced that it will not be conducting an aerial survey of Cook Inlet belugas this summer. These surveys have been flown every June since 1994 as the basis for estimating the population of this endangered whale.
The shift to a biennial survey means that less information about the population will be available and there will be less confidence in the numbers and trend. If the cost of the survey were being shifted to other needed research, that would help mitigate the loss, but that is not the case. For a lack of federal funding, NOAA is conducting no Cook Inlet beluga research this year.
Whales are a federal responsibility, but the state of Alaska surely has an interest in the recovery of our belugas. Instead of repeatedly suing over beluga protections, perhaps the state could play a positive role and help fund essential research. We dont know why the belugas are not recovering. That which may have implications for ecosystem and human health should concern us all.