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For Immediate Release, January 14, 2009

Contact: Brendan Cummings, (760) 366-2232 x 304 or (951) 768-8301 (cell)

Governor Sarah Palin Announces Lawsuit to
Overturn Protections for Endangered Whale;
Planned Suit Against Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Ignores Science and Law

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— The state of Alaska today formally notified the federal government of its intent to sue to overturn recent protections given to the critically endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale under the Endangered Species Act. In October 2008 the Cook Inlet beluga whale was listed as endangered by the federal National Marine Fisheries Service over the objections of Governor Sarah Palin. The listing occurred following petitions and litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity and other organizations.

Alaska ’s legal action against the beluga whale marks the second time in recent months that Governor Palin’s administration has launched legal attacks against endangered species on behalf of the oil industry; in August 2008 Palin filed suit seeking to overturn federal protection for the polar bear.

“Once again Governor Palin has demonstrated either a complete lack of understanding or lack of concern over the plight of endangered species,” said Brendan Cummings, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Governor Palin seems more than willing to sacrifice endangered whales on the altar of oil company profits.”

Cook Inlet is the most populated and fastest growing watershed in Alaska, and is subject to significant proposed offshore oil and gas development in beluga habitat. Additionally, the proposed Knik Arm Bridge, a billion-dollar boondoggle which would shorten the Governor’s commute from Wasilla to Anchorage, will directly impact some of the whale’s most important habitat.

The Cook Inlet beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) is a genetically distinct and geographically isolated population whose numbers have plummeted in recent decades.  Recent surveys show the Cook Inlet beluga whale’s population now hovers around 375 animals, down from an estimated population of approximately 1,300 whales in the 1980s. The Cook Inlet beluga whale is one of five populations of beluga, or white whales, in Alaska.

“Governor Palin must be suffering from an Ahab complex; she has an irrational obsession with driving the white whale extinct,” said Brendan Cummings, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

More information on the Cook Inlet beluga whale can be found at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/mammals/Cook_Inlet_beluga_whale/index.html

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