Belugas in the Mud

From September 1 to 9, we were back in Anchorage, Alaska, for a second year in a row for the start of the Cook Inlet Beluga Biopsy Program.

A number of parallels can be drawn between the situation of the Cook Inlet belugas and that of the St. Lawrence belugas. Isolated from neighbouring populations of northern Alaska and the Arctic, they have nearly been driven to the brink of extinction. Since being designated an endangered species, they have been the subject of important protection measures and several research projects are underway to try and understand why they do not seem to be recovering. Their population is estimated at just over 300 individuals and may be declining.

In addition to collaborating on the biopsy program with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), we took advantage of our visit to Anchorage to further explore collaboration with the team of Tamara McGuire, who maintains the photo-ID catalogue of Cook Inlet belugas first initiated 14 years ago. Tamara and her colleague Amber Stephens spent a week with us in July on board the Bleuvet.

From the very first day out on the water with the Cook Inlet belugas, this image of belugas swimming in the liquid mud quickly returned to us. Once the initial shock had subsided, the joy of discovering other belugas, different but yet so similar, came back to us.

Anchorage city
Anchorage has a great view on Cook Inlet. © GREMM
Belugas swimming
Cook Inlet belugas live in murky waters. © GREMM
We see the belugas only when they come to the surface. © GREMM
High tides (up to 12 m) carry many sediments. © GREMM
Tamara McGuire's research team photo-identifies the belugas. © GREMM
Two bald eagles
Two bald eagles © GREMM
Field Notes - 21/9/2017

Équipe du GREMM

Led by scientific director Robert Michaud, the research team of the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM) studies St. Lawrence beluga whales and large rorquals (humpback, blue and fin whales) at sea. The Bleuvet and the BpJAM leave the port of Tadoussac every morning to gather valuable information on the life of the whales of the St. Lawrence Estuary.

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