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What’s Happening:  2016 Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Survey Takes Flight

aerial whale observation flight pattern
A racetrack flight pattern is used when observing beluga whales.

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June 5,  In Search of the White Whale

Today was the third day of our search for belugas in upper Cook Inlet (north of East Foreland and West Foreland). After conducting these surveys for over 20 years, we know a number of places where belugas are likely to congregate.

At this time of year, the belugas usually gather near river mouths to feed on fish. Similar to past surveys, so far we have found belugas in Turnagain Arm, Chickaloon Bay, and at the mouths of the Beluga River, Theodore River, Susitna River, and the Little Susitna River.

Once we encounter a group, we begin a series of counting and video passes following a racetrack pattern around the belugas (see image above).

observers in plane
Two observers (left) collect independent counts while the third observer (right) video records each counting pass. The computer data recorder keeps track of the start and end of each pass using a software program that also allows us to collect locations (latitude, longitude) and weather conditions. We all take turns at each of these positions.


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