The Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Photo-ID Project has been ongoing since 2005. The goals of the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Photo-ID Project are to conduct research and education that contribute to the recovery and conservation of beluga whales in Cook Inlet and to provide information to help manage human activities that might affect the belugas. Using boat and shore-based surveys of Upper and Middle Cook Inlet, the Photo-ID Project photographically tracks individual beluga whales identified by natural markings. Over time, sighting histories are compiled for each known individual and researchers are able to learn more about the distribution, habitat use, social structure and reproduction of the Cook Inlet beluga whales.
Project funding comes through a variety of sources and varies year to year. The Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Photo-ID Project was jointly established in 2005 by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, LGL Alaska Research Associates, Inc., Chevron, ConocoPhillips Alaska Inc., the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Since then the Project has received support from the North Pacific Research Board, the US Department of Defense, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the National Marine Fisheries Service (AK Region and Marine Mammal Lab), Montana State University, the Knik Tribe, and the Kenai Peninsula Borough. Research is conducted under a scientific permit issued to the project Principal Investigator (PI) and Co-Investigators (CI).
The CIBW Photo-ID Project represents work conducted by numerous people and with the support of several organizations. In addition to the financial support above, the following people and institutions listed below are sincerely thanked for their participation and support of this project.
Project Skippers: Henry Hershberger, Brad Goetz, Dave McKay, Gary Kernan, Geoffrey Hershberger, Bob Cellers, Page Herring, Nathan McKay, Jr. Research Coordination: NMFS Alaska Region, NMFS Office of Protected Resources NMFS Office of Law Enforcement, NMFS Marine Mammal Laboratory, the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network; Department of Defense (JBER, Chris Garner, Rich Graham, Christie Osburn, Kori Blakely, and observers), and the Marine Mammal Commission. Database Development: Axiom Consulting and Design. Frequent Contributors of Incidental Sightings and photographs: The Kernan Family, Ken and Connie Tarbox, Josh Brekken, Tanglewood Bed and Breakfast, Beluga RV Park and Lodge, Deborah Boege-Tobin, Marc Weber, UAA Marine Mammal Program students, Kathy Burek Huntington, Carrie Goertz, Offshore Systems Kenai (OSK), Karla Dutton, Ian Dutton, Veronica’s Café, former colleagues at LGL Alaska Research Associates, Inc., Laura Morse, the Four Valleys School, the Kenai Visitor’s Center, the Kenai Senior Center, Loren Holmes of Alaska Dispatch, Scott Bartlett of the Pratt Museum, Monty Worthington, AOOS, United Cook Inlet Drift Association, Randy Standifer, Paul Shadura, the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, Suzanne Yin, Desray Reeb, Bill Burgess, Alaska Department of Fish and Game (Lori Quakenbush,Tom Gage, Justin Jenniges, Sue Goodglick, and John Skinner), the Beluga Whale Alliance (Suzanne Steinart, Chandra Tolley), Alaska Beluga Monitoring Partnership(AKBMP),Belugas Count! (Verena Gill, via NMFS AKR), Defenders of Wildlife, Alaska Wildlife Association, Hilcorp Alaska, Brian McGurgan, Kyoko Hada, Robby Frankevich, Russ Reno, the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM), Barb Mahoney, Kim Shelden, and Paul Wade, and all who have shared their sightings and photos with the CIBW Photo-ID Project.
Biological samples from stranding, tagging and biopsy were collected under NMFS permits #932-1905/MA-009526 (stranding), #957 and 782-1438 (Amendment 3; satellite tagging), #14245-04 (biopsy), and samples were analyzed by Nick Kellar (hormones from 2016 biopsy), Greg O-Corry Crowe (genetics from 1999-2002 satellite tagging), tooth aging (Dan Vos), and necropsy (Kathy Burek Huntington and Carrie Goertz).
We are grateful to the Alaska Native hunters who reported and shared samples with NMFS, and to colleagues who have shared their knowledge of Cook Inlet fisheries, including Ken Tarbox, Brad Goetz, Paige Herring, Bob Cellers, Mike Daigneault, Gary Kernan, Mark Willette, and Bill Bechtol.
CIBW photo-ID surveys were conducted under General Authorization, Letter of Confirmation No. 481-1759, and NMFS Scientific Research Permits #14210, #18016, and #2222. All CIBW Photo-ID Project reports are publicly available under the reports and publications tab.