Beluga whales win protection

On Friday, the National Marine Fisheries Service officially listed the Cook Inlet beluga whale as an endangered species.  Cook Inlet belugas are a genetically unique and geographically isolated population of whales that live Alaska’s Cook Inlet, near Anchorage.  Their population has plummeted and now only number about 375 whales (down from well over 1,000 just a few years ago).  The whale’s  population decline has been so severe that, in 2006 the World Conservation Union (IUCN) placed the Cook Inlet beluga on its Red List of endangered species. The U.S. Marine Mammal Commission repeatedly requested that the Fisheries Service list the species under the Endangered Species Act.Image removed.

NRDC played a key role in securing the listing.  Especially important was the engagement our members and online activists, who collectively sent over 118,000 letters to the federal government supporting enhanced protections for the whale (our members’ and activists’ comments made up over two-thirds of the total comments received by the government).

The beluga whale’s newfound protection under the Endangered Species Act will help scientists deal with the many threats faced by the species, including oil and gas exploration, construction activities, and the discharge of partially-treated sewage into whale habitat by the Anchorage’s wastewater treatment plant.  NRDC will now turn to making sure that we secure habitat protections for the whale and that these threats are appropriately addressed.