With the Belugas… of Cook Inlet
From August 10 to 23, the Bleuvet team defected to go lend a hand to some American colleagues studying another population of belugas in Alaska. The belugas of Cook Inlet are also on the sad list of endangered populations. Like St. Lawrence belugas, they live at the southern limit of the species’ range, have been subject to subsistence harvest in the past, and are now struggling to recover. Their population has gone from more than a thousand individuals in 1979 to about 300 today.
A number of research programs are underway to try to identify the factors that triggered this decline and seem to be hampering their recovery. Tamara McGuire of the consulting firm LGL Alaska Research Associates, Inc. has compiled a catalogue of photo-ID’d individuals similar to the one developed by the GREMM for the belugas of the St. Lawrence. In collaboration with researchers and managers from NOAA Fisheries (US agency comparable to Fisheries and Oceans Canada), she turned to the GREMM team to initiate a biopsy program. The pilot project is underway to evaluate the best methods for obtaining skin and fat samples to pursue the investigations.
Even if they share a similar plight, the belugas of Cook Inlet and those of the St. Lawrence live in very different environments. Cook Inlet is an inlet fed by glacial tributaries and is subject to a regime of imposing tides. Every day, tides in excess of twelve metres rise and fall, exposing vast mudflats when they recede. The belugas live year round in these turbid, sediment-laden waters. In fact, you can’t even see the tips of your fingers here!
The first week at sea has allowed researchers to share their impressions of the belugas’ social life. This collaboration represents a tremendous opportunity for a comparative study of the two populations. Stay tuned!
Property of the GREMM and the St. Lawrence National Institute of Ecotoxicology, the Bleuvet is a research boat dedicated to the research program on St. Lawrence belugas. Managed by GREMM scientific director Robert Michaud, the Bleuvet crew is composed of Michel Moisan, Tim Perrero and Simon Moisan.