Battling to Save Belugas: NRDC Intervenes in Lawsuit to Protect Endangered Cook Inlet Beluga Whales

Beluga whales are the latest casualty in the State of Alaska’s war against wildlife.  On June 4, the State of Alaska filed a lawsuit challenging the listing of Cook Inlet beluga whales as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Today NRDC and other conservation groups filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit in order to protect those endangered belugas.  Click here to read the press release.

After years of petitioning by NRDC and others, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) finally listed Cook Inlet beluga whales as endangered in October 2008.  (NRDC members and activists alone sent over 118,000 letters to NMFS supporting the endangered species designation.)  There is no question that Cook Inlet beluga whales are in grave danger of extinction – this genetically distinct population of belugas (which live only in Alaska’s Cook Inlet) has plummeted from roughly 1,300 to about 321.  And their numbers continue to decline.

Yet Alaska’s lawsuit inexplicably claims that this gravely imperiled population of beluga whales does not need protection under the ESA. 

This lawsuit is simply the latest skirmish in the State’s ongoing war to block protections for Cook Inlet beluga whales.  The State has long opposed listing Cook Inlet beluga whales as endangered under the ESA.  Most recently, the State opposed designating critical habitat for the belugas – which is actually required under federal law.  (NRDC members and activists sent over 43,000 letters to NMFS supporting critical habitat designation for Cook Inlet beluga whales.) 

The State’s lawsuit also ignores sound science.  In 2006, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) placed the Cook Inlet beluga on its Red List of endangered species.  And the prestigious U.S. Marine Mammal Commission repeatedly requested NMFS to list the Cook Inlet beluga whales as endangered under the ESA.  But Alaska continues to ignore the overwhelming science in favor of its rogue agenda. 

In the wake of Alaska’s latest attack, NRDC will fight to ensure that the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales remain fully protected under the ESA.