Cook Inlet belugas number 312
Scientists from NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center announced that the 2012 abundance estimate for the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale population is 312 animals; a small, but not scientifically significant increase over last year.
Population estimates have been as low as 278 and as high as 366 during the past decade. The overall beluga population trend for the past 10 years shows them still in decline at an annual average rate of 0.6 percent. This indicates these whales are still in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future.
For scientists, year-to-year changes in population estimates are less important than long-term trends. Estimates can vary from year to year based on different sighting or survey conditions, weather, or changes in beluga behavior or distribution.
Scientists say this year’s survey did have one unusual finding: whales venturing into relatively new waters.
“A group of belugas was observed just offshore West Foreland, swimming north into upper Cook Inlet. Beluga whales have not been observed in this area during our surveys since 2001,” said Kim Shelden, NOAA’s chief scientist on the survey.
New Cook Inlet response tool
The Alaska Ocean Observing System released a new data access and mapping application known as the Cook Inlet Response Tool. The tool can be launched through the website at www.aoos.org.
CIRT was developed in partnership with the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council to assist oil spill responders and planners, as well as provide information for researchers, managers and the general public. While this pilot project focuses on Cook Inlet, aspects of it were immediately available to assist emergency responders working on the Kulluk Tow Incident, the Shell drilling rig that recently ran aground near Kodiak. Developing CIRT has been a priority for the organizations for the past 18 months.
CIRT allows users to: Fly the coast and stream high-definition video from coastal aerial surveys; tap into weather conditions, including wind speed, water level, temperature and other conditions from more than 100 real-time sensors; visualize climate and oceanographic forecast models across time and depth; access geographic response strategies, oil persistence and hundreds of other GIS data sets including information for sensitive areas.
Delegation’s vote on tax hike
Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich both voted against a proposed tax hike. With taxes on every Alaska taxpayer scheduled to rise at the beginning of 2013, the senators voted for H.R. 8, that would avoid a tax hike on Alaskans who make less than $400,000 or families making less than $450,000. It also staves off across-the-board sequestration cuts in federal programs for two months in an attempt to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.” The bill passed by a vote of 89-8 with overwhelming, bipartisan support.
Murkowski’s office estimates a large portion of Alaska’s population would have been impacted: Alaskans making up to $400,000 – meaning 366,000 out of 373,000 Alaska households filing taxes. The president’s earlier proposal to raise taxes on Americans making $250,000 could have cost the state nearly 1,800 jobs, she contended.
Learning all about avalanches
North American Outdoor Institute will give a free Avalanche Safety course at Islands and Ocean Visitors Center at 6 p.m. on Jan 16. The course is funded by the Alaska Department of Public Safety to keep Alaskans safe through steep terrain areas. It gives tips on decision-making, route selection and hazard analysis. Homer residents have experienced avalanche dangers, including one known mortality in recent years.
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