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Soundings Archive

NMFS Lists Beluga Whales as Endangered and Publishes Conservation Plan for Them
On October 22, 2008, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service published notice that NMFS has listed a Distinct Population Segment of the beluga whale, Delphinapterus leucas, found in Cook Inlet, Alaska, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. NMFS' Federal Register notice of the ESA listing explains that

    "Five distinct stocks of beluga whales are currently recognized in Alaska: Beaufort Sea, eastern Chukchi Sea, eastern Bering Sea, Bristol Bay, and Cook Inlet. The Cook Inlet population is numerically the smallest of these, and is the only one of the five Alaskan stocks occurring south of the Alaska Peninsula in waters of the Gulf of Alaska. Systematic surveys on beluga whales in Cook Inlet documented a decline in abundance of nearly 50 percent between 1994 and 1998, from an estimate of 653 whales to 347 whales. This decline was mostly attributed to the subsistence harvest (through 1998); however, even with the restrictions on this harvest, the population has continued to decline by 1.45 percent per year from 1999 to 2008. Annual surveys have continued since 1994, and indicate this population is not recovering."
NMFS intends to propose a critical habitat designation for the Cook Inlet beluga whale in a future rulemaking.

On the same day as the listing, NMFS published notice of the availability of the final conservation plan for the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act. NMFS explains in this notice:
    "The MMPA requires NMFS to prepare a conservation plan to promote the conservation and recovery of any species or stock designated as depleted. The Cook Inlet beluga whale stock declined by nearly 50 percent from 1994 to 1998. ... The goal of this conservation plan is restore the Cook Inlet beluga whale population to its optimum sustainable population (OSP). The conservation strategy NMFS developed to attain this goal has four components: (1) improve our understanding of the biology of Cook Inlet beluga whales and the factors limiting the population's growth; (2) stop direct losses to the population; (3) protect valuable habitat; and (4) evaluate the effectiveness of these strategies and the success of the conservation actions in restoring the Cook Inlet beluga whale population. The Plan will be reviewed and updated every five years. The goal of the Plan will be met when the depleted designation for Cook Inlet beluga whales can be removed."
  • Click here to read NMFS Listing notice
  • Click here to read NMFS Conservation Plan notice

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