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Wildlife on the BrinkAlaska : Cook Inlet Beluga Whale
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Cook Inlet Beluga WhaleSpecies Gallery

Cook Inlet Beluga Whale
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Delphinapterus leucas

STATUS: Proposed for endangered status

HABITAT: Cook Inlet, Alaska

LIFE HISTORY: Travel in groups from 2-3 to as many as several hundred; mating takes place in late winter/early spring; calves nurse for approximately two years

THREATS: Hunting, human-caused pollution, strandings, disease, shipping traffic, noise, and human-induced habitat changes, among others

RANGE: A distinct population of beluga whales found only in Alaska's Cook Inlet

CURRENT POPULATION: Approximately 300

The Cook Inlet beluga -- a small, isolated population of the beluga whale -- is the southernmost and the smallest of Alaska's five beluga whale populations. Because the Cook Inlet whales are separated from other beluga species by the Alaska Peninsula, they are a genetically distinct population. These animals live in one of the most heavily populated and fastest growing regions in Alaska. As a result, their health and habitat is threatened by human-caused pollution and development. Planned development projects threaten to fill in more than 135 acres of beluga whale habitat, which is also at risk from the discharge of municipal sewage into the inlet. The region's oil industry introduces the added dangers of spills and leaks, toxic waste and harmful noise pollution. Cook Inlet belugas are at risk of going extinct in the next 100 years.
In April 2006, environmental groups petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to list the Cook Inlet Beluga as endangered under the Endangered Species Act due to continuing population declines. The National Marine Fisheries Service formally proposed the animals for listing as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and more than 100,000 NRDC activists have written to the Fisheries Service in support of the proposal. In April 2008, the National Marine Fisheries Service finally listed the Cook Inlet beluga whale as endangered. A designation of critical habitat for the whale is expected early 2010. But while still in office, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin announced plans for a lawsuit to overturn the Cook Inlet beluga's protections. Although her replacement does not appear any friendlier to protecting the beluga, the state has not yet filed a lawsuit. NRDC is working to ensure that the Cook Inlet beluga receives the habitat protection that is crucial to its survival.
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Photos: Alaska © PhotoDisc; polar bear © Steve Amstrup, Alaska Image Library, USFWS; spectacled eider © Chris Dau, Alaska Image Library, USFWS; beluga whale © Corbis; yellow-billed loon © Getty Images
Feature Home Print Version Alaska Northwest California Rockies/Prairie Southwest Midwest Southeast Northeast Hawaii International Polar Bear Spectacled Eider Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Yellow-Billed Loon

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