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A satellite tagging project was conducted from 1999 through 2003, as part of a multi-year study of fall, winter, and spring movements of beluga whales in Cook Inlet. This project is a cooperative effort amongst the National Marine Mammal Laboratory and the Alaska Regional Office, the Cook Inlet Marine Mammal Council, and an organization of native hunters.

Each beluga was tagged with a satellite-linked time and depth recorder which records average dive depths, dive intervals, and time at depth. These data are reported to a System ARGOS receiver on a NOAA earth observation satellite passing overhead several times a day. Location of the whale is calculated from the Doppler shift in the uplink signal. The detailed position information from this study will allow biologists to follow the movements of tagged whales through the late summer, fall, winter, spring, and possibly into next summer, completing their annual cycle.

What we learn from these whales will help the National Marine Fisheries Service and several Alaska native organizations in the Cook Inlet region understand the movement patterns of these animals, as well as their surfacing and diving behavior. These data are important to estimating the stock size of this distinct population of belugas and to identifying the critical habitat areas that they depend on.

Biopsy samples and life history data are used for various studies. Skin samples will provide genetic information and can be used to identify individual whales and the stock that they came from. The blubber is analyzed to determine the whale's diet and contaminant loads. The blood yields information on the general health and condition of the whale, as well as specific information on pathogens, parasite loads, and hormone levels.

The following links show the satellite-determined positions of the tagged whales for each year:

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