Study Sheds Light on Critically Endangered Beluga Whale Population
Published:02 Nov.2020    Source:WHOI

A team of scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and NOAA Fisheries are collaborating to help stem the decline of a critically endangered population of beluga whales in the Cook Inlet, Alaska.  A study recently published in Animal Microbiome outlines important first steps in understanding epidermal microbial communities in beluga whales, as well as their role in beluga health. This study is one piece of a larger puzzle for researchers looking at everything from social structure to acoustic interference and contaminants, all with the shared mission to reverse the dire decline of this vulnerable population.

Beluga whales in Cook Inlet, Alaska are critically endangered. Despite protections that have been in place 2006, beluga whales living in the Cook Inlet region of Alaska are still declining, currently numbering approximately 300 members. Scientists are confounded as to why their numbers are still so low, and are considering all possible reasons, including ocean contamination, pathogens, noise, habitat degradation, ship-strikes, disease, and declines in available prey food. Many other populations of beluga whales remain healthy, including the neighboring population in Bristol Bay, Alaska.