Hakai Magazine —
The endangered beluga whales living in Alaska’s Cook Inlet are still declining in number, despite protections put in place 20 years ago and the adoption of a recovery plan in 2016.
The latest population estimate—released in January, based on a survey from June 2018—is only 279 animals, down from 328 just two years before. The federal agency in charge of whale management, the National Marine Fisheries Service, has called the trend “concerning.”
A new study suggests that reduced access to salmon could be part of the problem, but researchers say there are still far too many unknowns about why the belugas are faring so poorly.
“We’re trying to recover a species here and we just don’t know anything about it,” says Bill Bechtol, an independent fisheries researcher based in Homer, Alaska, who drafted part of the beluga recovery plan.