Law seminar highlights Cornick’s research on Cook Inlet belugas

Associate Professor Leslie Cornick was among invited presenters at a continuing-education seminar for lawyers focusing on the Endangered Species Act in Alaska.

Cornick is a regionally ranked expert in Cook Inlet beluga whale ecology, listed since 2008 as an endangered species under federal regulation.

More than 3,000 square miles of Cook Inlet has been designated critical habitat essential to the whales’ survival. Once an Alaska Native subsistence food, belugas in Cook Inlet are no longer hunted because of their declining numbers.

Cornick focused her talk May 31 on the ecology of Cook Inlet belugas and the lack of data when it comes to understanding their health status and the effects of contaminants.

She also discussed the status of waste water treatment in Anchorage, which flows into the Inlet. Anchorage is exempt from secondary treatment because extreme tidal fluctuations are believed to flush contaminants quickly from the system.

“Many of those attending my talk were lawyers and others who work in development,” Cornick told the APU Blog. “It’s really important for non-science stakeholders to hear from scientists on these issues.”

Cornick oversees the University’s Scientific Marine Mammal Monitoring Program. Among other things, the program has worked on monitoring belugas for the Port of Anchorage expansion.

Her talk included lab results obtained by students in the University’s Master of Science in Environmental Science program.

“People need to know that at APU we do real, applied and cutting-edge research that benefits the community as well as our students,” Cornick said.

Cornick presented data describing cumulative effects of coastal zone development and ways that noise, contaminants and decreased prey – among other factors – could further depress beluga whale numbers.

She regularly talks to local groups about her findings and is among the few area beluga researchers who is unaffiliated with an agency.

“I can speak candidly,” she said.


Alaska Pacific University is an accredited, private liberal arts and sciences university committed to experiential learning with Alaska as our principal classroom.