Kim Ovitz

A citizen-science project this spring to document Cook Inlet beluga whales in the Kenai River was wildly successful.

Until it wasn’t.

The spotting project ran from March 15 through May 31 with scores of citizens taking part in planned, or sometimes impromptu, whale-spotting adventures. And though the study period was two and a half months, the sightings made in the river all came during just a portion of that time period, according to the woman who had her eyes on the river every day.

Kenai Marine Mammal Monitoring Project

  Beluga whale watching used to be a popular attraction around Kenai, but for the past 20-some years sightings have become increasingly rare. And, for most of the year, the small white whales are few and far between in this part of Cook Inlet. It's no wonder they are being intensively studied.

One effort, the Kenai Marine Mammal Monitoring Project, is a community-based citizen-science program, overseen by Kim Ovitz, a fellow with the University of Alaska Sea Grant Program.

In one lifetime, the number of beluga whales in Cook Inlet has dwindled by about a thousand, with a little more than 300 still hanging on.  As a result, keeping an eye on the one-ton white whales has become a priority. On this week's Kenai Conversation, Sea Grant fellow Kim Ovitz talks about her project learning about belugas that visit the Kenai River, and what they mean to the people of Kenai.