NOAA beluga viewing festival canceled due to COVID concerns

The “Belugas Count!” event was supposed to be held on Sept. 11.

In this September 2017 file photo from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, beluga whales arch their backs through the surface of the water. Of Alaska’s five distinct beluga whale populations, only Cook Inlet’s is listed as endangered. (Courtesy the Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

In this September 2017 file photo from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, beluga whales arch their backs through the surface of the water. Of Alaska’s five distinct beluga whale populations, only Cook Inlet’s is listed as endangered. (Courtesy the Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

The fall beluga citizen science event has been canceled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, according to a NOAA press release.

The “Belugas Count!” event was supposed to be held in Kenai, as well as in other communities along the Turnagain and Knik Arm waterways, on Sept. 11. During the annual event, people view the endangered Cook Inlet beluga pods across the state.

Out of “an abundance of caution” due to the pandemic, NOAA and partnering agencies canceled the event, according to the release. Last fall the event was also canceled.

Even though the in-person count won’t happen for the second year in a row, NOAA Fisheries will be hosting an online webinar on Sept. 10 in an effort to educate the public about the endangered belugas.

In Kenai, the belugas usually make their way from the inlet into the Kenai River and then back out again before low tide. They can be observed from the bluff at the Spur View Picnic area, the Warren Ames Memorial Bridge and from the boardwalk at Cunningham Park, according to NOAA Fisheries. More information about where to see the whales can be found on the Belugas Count Facebook page.

According to NOAA, the best time to see the whales is three to four hours before high tide. The Belugas Count Facebook page states whales have been spotted in both Turnagain Arm and the Knik area as early as Aug. 9.

People are encouraged to report beluga sightings to the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Project at coookinletbelugas.com/cibw-sightings.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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