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Survey spots fewer Cook Inlet belugas in 2011, comments from phone in Seattle

Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The 2011 survey of endangered beluga whales in Alaska's Cook Inlet spotted 20 percent fewer animals, but federal officials say it's not an indication of an abrupt population drop.

The survey, conducted in June by the National Marine Fisheries Service and announced Monday, recorded 284 of the whales, down from 340 recorded in 2010.

However, federal officials said estimates can vary depending on weather, survey conditions or changes in beluga distribution. The survey concentrates on whales' favorite locations in the upper inlet and along the coast, said lead scientist Rod Hobbs by phone from Seattle....