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For Immediate Release, April 19, 2007

Contact: Brendan Cummings, Center for Biological Diversity, (760) 366-2232 x 304
Bob Shavelson, Cook Inletkeeper, (907) 299-3277
Mike Frank, Trustees for Alaska, (907) 276-4244 x 116
John Schoen, Audubon-Alaska, (907) 276-7034   

Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection
Protection Will Focus Federal Resources on Recovery

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— The National Marine Fisheries Service today proposed a new rule to list the Cook Inlet beluga whale as “endangered” under the federal Endangered Species Act. The long-awaited announcement came in response to a listing petition filed in April 2006 by a number of conservation organizations and one individual. 

“This decision will ultimately lead to more funding for the long-delayed research needed to ensure the Cook Inlet beluga has a fighting chance at long-term survival,” said Cook Inletkeeper’s Bob Shavelson. 

Scientists estimated the Cook Inlet beluga population at approximately 1,300 whales as recently as the 1980s; the National Marine Fisheries Service’s most recent surveys show the whale’s population now hovers around 300.

In response to a similar listing petition filed in 1999, the Service identified unregulated subsistence harvests as a possible source for the declines and refused to list the whale under the Endangered Species Act at that time, instead listing it as “depleted” under the less protective Marine Mammal Protection Act. Since then, however, the population has not rebounded as federal scientists expected, despite severe limitations on subsistence harvests.

“The Endangered Species Act is our country’s most effective law for wildlife protection and recovery,” said Brendan Cummings, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Applying the tools of the Act to beluga recovery is the best hope for this highly imperiled whale.”

The agency must finalize the listing rule and identify critical habitat for the beluga within one year, and thereafter develop a recovery plan for the whale.

"There are few places in the world like Anchorage where a species of whale is as visible, enthralling, and accessible as the Cook Inlet beluga. We need to do all we can to make sure that continues in the future," said Mike Frank, senior staff attorney with Trustees for Alaska. 

“The government’s decision allows Cook Inlet beluga recovery to be governed by science, where it belongs. We’re confident that beluga recovery and human activity in Cook Inlet can coexist, and today’s decision will bring funding and research to this critical challenge,” said Randy Virgin, executive director of Alaska Center for the Environment.

The petitioners on the listing petition are Cook Inletkeeper, the Alaska Center for the Environment, National Audubon Society - Alaska State Office, North Gulf Oceanic Society, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Center for Biological Diversity, Alaska Oceans Network, Defenders of Wildlife, Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of Potter Marsh and the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, and Sylvia Brunner, PhD. Petitioners were represented by attorneys from Trustees for Alaska.

The proposed listing rule will publish in tomorrow’s Federal Register. A copy of the rule can be found at .

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