[MARMAM] Publication of Cook Inlet beluga satellite-tagging technical report

Kim Shelden - NOAA Federal kim.shelden at noaa.gov
Thu Mar 15 15:29:11 PDT 2018

The following publication is now available for viewing/download:

Shelden, K. E. W., K. T. Goetz, R. C. Hobbs, L. K. Hoberecht, K. L. Laidre,
B. A. Mahoney, T. L. McGuire, S. A. Norman, G. O’Corry-Crowe, D. J. Vos, G.
M. Ylitalo, S. A. Mizroch, S. Atkinson, K. A. Burek-Huntington, and C.
Garner. 2018. Beluga whale, Delphinapterus leucas, satellite-tagging and
health assessments in Cook Inlet, Alaska, 1999 to 2002. U.S. Dep. Commer.,
NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS-AFSC-369, 227 p.

Document available:

​Extended Abstract:

​     Cook Inlet beluga whales, Delphinapterus leucas, are currently listed
as ‘Endangered’ under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). The National
Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) began monitoring this population during the
1990s after it was added to the ESA Candidate Species list in 1988.
Monitoring efforts included aerial surveys, and in 1995, the first attempts
to capture and satellite-tag whales. Working with Canadian scientists and
Alaska Native subsistence hunters in 1995 and 1997, tagging methods were
adapted to conditions in Cook Inlet (muddy water, extreme tides, and
extensive mudflats), culminating in successful capture and tracking of a
whale during the summer of 1999. This was followed by three more years of
capture and tagging studies during late summer. Tags were attached to 18
whales between 1999 and 2002.
     We do not have detailed accounts of these later tagging seasons (e.g.,
similar to the Appendix chronicling events from the 1997 and 1999 seasons
in Ferrero et al. (2000)). Litzky et al. (2001) summarized field operations
for the 2000 tagging season, but no reports exist for 2001 and 2002. A
reanalysis of the tag dataset (Goetz et al. 2012) led to questions about
the captures and how tags were programmed during this time period. Given
the Cook Inlet population has continued to decline (Hobbs et al. 2015,
Shelden et al. 2017), and was listed as an Endangered Distinct Population
Segment under the ESA in October 2008 (NOAA 2008), future recommendations
for tagging will depend on lessons learned from these past projects.
Lacking detailed field reports, we consolidated information from multiple
     Herein, we bring these varied sources together to provide a thorough
documentation of the tagging operations undertaken in Cook Inlet each
summer in 2000, 2001, and 2002. We include revised tag transmission
timelines, monthly movement maps, dive behavior data, and ice-association
graphs and maps for all whales (where applicable) tagged in 1999, 2000,
2001, and 2002. Whale locations were compared to sighting records
(opportunistic and systematic) to determine how many whales were likely
proximate to tagged whales. Animations of whale movements are available at
(accessed 17 Aug.
     Beginning with the 2000 season, each whale underwent a health
assessment at the time of tagging. Results from laboratory analyses of the
blood, blubber, skin, and mucus samples are presented. These include
results obtained for hematology and serum chemistry values, hormones, DNA
extractions, blubber lipid composition, fatty acid profiles, stable isotope
ratios, and persistent organic pollutant profiles. We also provide a
follow-up to the tagging study, describing captured and tagged whales that
have been photo-documented since 2005 by the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale
Photo-identification Project (https://www.cookinletbelugas.com/).


*Kim E.W. Shelden, M.M.A.*
Marine Biologist, Cetacean Assessment & Ecology Program
Marine Mammal Laboratory, Alaska Fisheries Science Center
7600 Sand Point Way N.E., Seattle, Washington 98115-6349
(206) 526-6275 office, (206) 526-6615 fax, www.afsc.noaa.gov/nmml/

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