Aerial Survey of Belugas in Cook Inlet Alaska, September and October 2008
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Aerial Survey of Belugas in Cook Inlet Alaska, September and October 2008

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    The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) conducted two aerial surveys focused primarily in lower Cook Inlet, Alaska, 19-20 September and 22 October 2008, in an exploratory effort to look for belugas in Kamishak Bay. Each survey (4 flights totaling 8.9 flight hours in September and 1 flight for a total of 3.5 flight hours in October) was flown in a twin-engine, high-wing Aero Commander aircraft at an altitude of 244 m (800 ft) and speed of 185 km/hr (100 kt), consistent with NMFS’ surveys of Cook Inlet conducted each year since 1993. The 2-day survey in September 2008 included a coastal trackline (flown 1.4 km offshore) down the western side of the inlet from the Little Susitna River to Cape Douglas, mid-inlet tracklines, and a coastal trackline along Kachemak Bay the first day; and a coastal trackline of the upper inlet north of Point Possession and the Beluga River tidal flats on the second day. The October 2008 survey included the coastal areas from Cape Douglas to the Little Susitna River. The primary intent of these surveys was to document beluga groups in Kamishak Bay with a secondary objective to test paired video cameras during the September survey. The video camera used during past surveys (2003-2005) was paired with the high-definition video camera used in 2006- 2008 to test for changes in resolution between formats. Belugas were not observed in lower Cook Inlet during either survey, though other marine mammals such as harbor seals, Steller sea lions, and sea otters were seen. Belugas were found in the upper inlet in Turnagain Arm (4 groups), Chickaloon Bay (1 group), and Knik Arm (2 groups) and comparison video was obtained of groups in Turnagain Arm (15 video passes) for testing purposes. The location of a dead beluga stranded in Turnagain Arm was confirmed during the 19 September survey.
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