By Jenny Neyman
Though an updated Cook Inlet beluga whale population survey isn’t going to be conducted until early June, there is one recently confirmed change to the 2011 population number, when a subadult beluga was caught in the Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s educational fishery set gillnet near the mouth of the Kenai River on May 7.
“We were deeply saddened. This was not an intentional harvest,” said Sasha Lindgren, cultural director for the Kenaitze Indian Tribe.
The whale was found the evening of May 7 in the tribe’s educational fishery net, about a mile south of the mouth of the Kenai off Cannery Road.
Lindgren said that the crew running the net was on the beach, noticed the whale and called authorities.
“We’re not exactly sure what happened, if the beluga was dead and got caught. It looks like it was dead and just it rolled up into the net with the surf action, so we’re thinking it was dead or had no strength, because normally they go right through a net,” she said.
Barbara Mahoney, with the National Marine Fisheries Service out of Anchorage, said the
cause of death wasn’t immediately clear. Representatives from the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward collected the whale May 8 and performed an autopsy.
“The cause of death is not known at this time, but tissue samples have been sent out for analysis,” Mahoney said. She said that it could take weeks for the necropsy samples to come back.