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Wildlife

Citizen scientists sought for monitoring of Cook Inlet belugas

Beluga whales chase their prey up Turnagain Arm in northern Cook Inlet on Aug. 27, 2013. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

KENAI - A wildlife monitoring group is seeking citizen scientists to help track beluga whales in Cook Inlet, officials said.

The Alaska Beluga Monitoring Partnership is offering volunteers an opportunity to help scientists understand more about Inlet belugas, the Peninsula Clarion reported.

The partnership is a collaboration of several organizations including Beluga Whale Alliance, Defenders of Wildlife and the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.

Monitoring events are expected to take place between Aug. 14 and Nov. 15.

Planned monitoring locations include Twentymile River and Bird Point near Girdwood, Ship Creek in Anchorage, and the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers.

"You don't have to have had experience observing belugas in the past, or really any other animal," said Kimberly Ovitz, a citizen science monitoring coordinator with the partnership.

The Cook Inlet beluga population has declined by nearly 75% since 1979, from about 1,300 whales to an estimated 328 whales in 2016, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The population is declining by 0.4% each year, the agency said.

Volunteers will learn about the conservation needs of Cook Inlet beluga whales and receive training on identifying and recording data about beluga distribution and behavior, officials said.

Data will be incorporated into NOAA's Beluga Sightings Database and Ecosystem Portal and shared with researchers to inform beluga research and management.

“It’s really just a great opportunity for people to come out and learn more about their ecosystem, enjoy being outside and to contribute conservation recovery of this species in Cook Inlet,” Ovitz said.

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