Drivers traveling on the Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm, south of Alaska's largest city of Anchorage, might have recently seen an all-too-familiar sight: cars pulled over on the side of the road, with a mob of people standing outside, cameras at the ready. Usually, such rubberneckers are looking up, toward Dall sheep perched high above on the cliffs looming over the highway.
This time, however, they were looking out, toward Turnagain Arm, at a rarer sight -- a pod of belugas frolicking and chasing prey in the waters just off the highway.
Turnagain Arm belugas are members of Alaska's Cook Inlet beluga whale population, which has been listed as endangered since 2008. An annual count of the whales conducted in 2012 turned up a mere 312 of the animals along Cook Inlet's 1,100 miles of coastline. Other Alaska beluga populations -- including those in the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas -- are listed as stable.
Belugas typically grow to lengths of more than 10 feet and can live for up to 30 years. They're a toothed whale, and eat a variety of fish, including salmon, herring and cod, and have been known to eat octopus and squid. Belugas are easily picked out because of their white coloring, though they're grey at birth.