Beluga observers needed for spring monitoring
Eagle-eyed observers are wanted this spring to track creatures of a non-avian persuasion. The Alaska Beluga Monitoring Partnership is recruiting volunteers to keep a lookout in Cook Inlet and Turnagain Arm from March 15 through May 15.
Madison Kosma is the coordinator of the partnership, which brings together environmental nonprofit organizations, federal agencies and volunteers to maximize the amount of information gathered on endangered Cook Inlet belugas.
“We already have these community members that are out there that are telling us about these sightings that they have. There are only so many scientists, and so if we can gather the force of community, we can know so much more about what’s going on with this population and contribute to the conservation efforts and databases that are already established,” Kosma said.
Monitoring sites are chosen because they are known foraging spots for belugas, at Ship Creek, Bird Creek and 20-Mile River in Turnagain Arm and the mouths of the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. A two-hour timeframe is selected each day, based on the tide cycle. Volunteers will be on the lookout, binoculars and clipboards in hand, to see and record activity.
“There’s actually certain times of year that we kind of don’t know exactly what is going on with belugas. Even though there is so much research that has been done. And so the purpose of this is that you have these sites every day, seeing what’s happening, seeing when these whales are in these rivers, seeing how far up these whales are going in these rivers, and looking at what kind of human activity in going on in the area as well as what’s the beluga behavior,” Kosma said.
Anyone can participate, though a certain level of eyesight and patience is required. Volunteers are required to attend an orientation session to learn how to collect data in a standardized format and are asked to sign up for at least three monitoring shifts.
The volunteer project began in the fall and Kosma says the Kenai and Kasilof areas had great participation.
“There’s such enthusiastic volunteers down there. It’s very unique at Kenai, as well, because it’s our only site where you can follow the whales. So we have a spot at the Kenai bluffs, and some of them decide to follow them up to that little wildlife viewing area, and then you can follow them up to the bridge, and then we’ve even seen them plenty of times at Cunningham Park. And that’s the really cool thing about the site down there that we don’t have at other sights is the ability to follow them and see what they’re doing farther up the river,” she said.
An orientation session is scheduled March 4 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the McLane Commons at Kenai Peninsula College. Sign up on the Alaska Beluga Monitoring Partnership website or message the partnership to be notified about future orientations at akbmp.org.