On a windy Monday morning, half a dozen people stood on the shores of Cook Inlet near Bird Point staring at the water intently. The group of volunteers gathered to monitor beluga whales in the Inlet.

Kim Ovitz with the organizing group, Alaska Beluga Monitoring Partnership said volunteers acting as citizen scientists are collecting valuable data on beluga habitats and beluga behavior.

Beluga mother and calf. Calves are born dark gray and gradually lighten to white when they are about seven years old.

“Even though we are out here and we are counting how many whales we see and how many whales are using the different areas of Cook Inlet, we are really interested in what areas they’re using, when they’re using those areas, and why they might be using those areas,” she said.

It’s part of a continuing effort to understand more about the mysterious white whales. And also, why the population of Cook Inlet belugas, which were declared an endangered species in 2008, has been in such decline. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports Cook Inlet belugas that numbered 1,300 in 1979 were down to a little over 300 by 2016.

“In the last 30 years, 75% are gone. It’d be nice if in the next 30 years it didn’t go any further,” said  Merijeanne Moore, a volunteer on the project.

Ovitz said the work volunteers are doing is critical because there isn’t funding to monitor all five sites in Cook Inlet for the three-month period that continues through mid-November. She said people who would like to help don’t need to make a big commitment. The group asks for a minimum of three monitoring sessions at two hours apiece.

“They can attend the orientation. It’s about an hour and a half long. And after that, we ask them to come out to one field session with us at least to get comfortable to learn how to use our monitoring protocols and our datasheets. And after that they can monitor on their own,” said Ovitz.

Volunteers can sign-up and get more information on the Alaska Beluga Monitoring Partnership website. 

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