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NATIONAL MARINE MAMMAL LABORATORY (NMML)

California Current Program

San Miguel Island Research

Research activities conducted at San Miguel Island from January through March 2004 focused primarily on the evaluation of California sea lion pups from the 2003 cohort. Personnel from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML), Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and Channel Islands National Park evaluated 26 branded and 30 nonbranded pups on 29-30 January. Pups in the Adamís Cove area of the island were herded and held in a temporary enclosure to facilitate evaluation. Evaluation of pups included recording pup weight, standard length, girth, and sex. Blood samples and fecal swabs were collected from both branded and nonbranded pups. Blood samples were analyzed for packed cell volume, and fecal swabs were analyzed for the presence of hookworm eggs. In addition, the research crew also conducted resight surveys of branded California sea lions in Adamís Cove and along the south coast when time permitted. In March 2004, personnel from NMML and the University of Washington deployed remote release instrument platforms on four adult female California seal lions to test data collection and the release mechanism.

By Jeff Laake

 

Cetacean Assessment & Ecology Program

Opportunistic Sightings of Beluga Whales in Cook Inlet

Opportunistic sightings of belugas whales in Cook Inlet, Alaska, have been reported to the NMML since 1977. Initially, sightings were reported through the Platforms of Opportunity program. However, in 1999 the NMFS Alaska Regional Office set up a network to improve the publicís awareness of belugas and encourage reports of sighting information. The beluga data were then entered into a dedicated database designed and maintained by the NMML. The high visibility and distinctive nature of belugas made them well suited for the opportunistic sightings project.

Table 1.  Summary of beluga whale sightings in Cook Inlet, Alaska, from opportunistic reports.

Year Number of Sightings Avg. Group Size Min. Group Size Max. Group Size
1977 10   4.1   1   18  
1978 59   16.7   1   150  
1979 72   12.5   1   97  
1980 1   400.0   400   400  
1982 43   27.0   1   250  
1983 23   22.4   1   173  
1987 1   37.0   37   37  
1991 4   108.7   45   190  
1992 3   88.3   1   255  
1993 5   17.2   6   30  
1997 10   15.0   1   36  
1998 2   55.0   35   75  
1999 89   21.6   1   300  
2000 273   19.1   1   350  
2001 189   25.4   1   150  
2002 18   68.6   1   200  

Sighting reports have come from a variety of sources ranging from observations by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) during systematic aerial surveys for birds to casual observations by tourists on the beach or people fishing in small boats. Location data range from precise locations (e.g., GPS-determined latitude and longitude) to approximate distances from major landmarks. In addition to location data, most reports include date, time, approximate number of whales, and notable whale behavior. Although the beluga sightings in the database are considered to be fairly reliable, there are no records of search effort; thus, the database does not provide information on where whales were absent. Currently there are 802 sighting records in the database (Table 1 above). Table 1 summarizes the sightings in the database by year and includes the average, minimum, and maximum group size.

By Christy Sims and Dave Rugh

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