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Permanent marks used to identify individual Cook Inlet beluga whales

August 2014 (approx.)

Detailed Description

The Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Photo-ID Project surveys the waters of Cook Inlet each year to collect data on Cook Inlet beluga whales, an endangered population that resides in the Inlet year-round. Part of the data collected include photos like this, which can be used to identify individual whales from the unique pattern of permanent marks and scars (highlighted here by the orange arrows and circle) on their dorsal surface (i.e., back and sides). This adult whale (white) was first photographed in 2005 and is seen here swimming with its calf (grey), showing parts of the right sides of their bodies. Scientists from Montana State University, the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Photo-ID Project, University of Washington, and USGS developed a new model to use these photographic data to estimate the population’s survival and reproductive rates, something that hadn’t been possible previously. Their work showed that the population has a low reproductive rate and that some individuals in the population are not surviving as long as expected. The researchers hope that this information will provide new insights into why the Cook Inlet beluga whale population continues to decline. Photo taken under MMPA/ESA Research Permit #18016. Read more at: Copyright Photo taken by Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Photo-ID Project.


Copyright photo taken by Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Photo-ID Project. For online releases, website address: For online releases, website address: USGS websites ( USGS Multimedia Gallery ( and and social media