ANCHORAGE, Alaska— A federal judge…rejected the state of Alaska’s 2010 lawsuit that tried to strip Endangered Species Act protections for Cook Inlet beluga whales. The whales were listed as an endangered species in 2008. In today’s decision, the judge said that the best available science supports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s determination that Cook Inlet beluga whales are in danger of extinction. While hunting was initially considered the cause of the significant decline of belugas in the Inlet, the population has continued to decline after hunting ceased in 1999.
The Alaska Center for the Environment, the Center for Biological Diversity, Cook Inletkeeper, Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the North Gulf Oceanic Society, represented by Trustees for Alaska, intervened in the lawsuit to defend the beluga listing against the state’s attack.
Once numbering 1,300, the Cook Inlet beluga population currently has only 300 to 400 individuals. This diminished population faces many threats. Cook Inlet, which borders the city of Anchorage, is the most populated and fastest-growing watershed in Alaska, and it is subject to significant offshore oil and gas development in beluga habitat. Additionally, the proposed billion-dollar Knik Arm Bridge will directly affect the belugas, and port expansion and a proposed giant coal mine and coal-export dock would also destroy key beluga habitat.
“The Cook Inlet beluga whale is one of Alaska’s most iconic wild animals, and we need to do all we can to prevent its extinction,” said Karla Dutton, Alaska director for Defenders of Wildlife. “A healthy beluga population in Cook Inlet is essential to the health of the inlet itself and the people and wildlife who depend on it. We’re gratified that the court sided with the scientists and kept in place the vital protections these whales need.”