SAVING THE COOK INLET BELUGA WHALE
Like the legendary Moby Dick, the full-grown beluga whale is snowy white. Yet unlike Herman Melville’s mostly fictitious albino sperm whale, which had only Captain Ahab to deal with, the beluga swims in an ocean chock-full of dangers such as pollution, oil drilling and global warming. The isolated Cook Inlet beluga whale population must also contend with the increasingly perilous and industrialized waters near Anchorage, Alaska’s fastest-growing city.
In 1999, the Center — along with seven allies — submitted the first petition to protect the species under the Endangered Species Act. In response, the National Marine Fisheries Service declared the population “depleted” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, an inadequate substitute for the more powerful Endangered Species Act.
But in response to a 2006 citizen petition by the Center and our partners, the Fisheries Service proposed in 2007 to list the Cook Inlet beluga whale as an endangered species — and then received more than 150,000 public comments in support of endangered status for the whale. After the Center and allies sued to speed a response in summer 2008, the Fisheries Service put the Cook Inlet beluga on the endangered species list, and in November 2009 — after a notice of intent to sue for inaction from the Center — the agency proposed to designate almost 2 million acres of critical habitat for the whale. Despite objections from the state of Alaska, this habitat was finalized in 2011. When the state of Alaska filed suit challenging the white whale’s Endangered Species Act status, we fought back — and won in 2011. The next year, The Center and allies filed a lawsuit challenging a permit issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service to Apache Alaska Corporation to allow oil and gas exploration threatening belugas in Cook Inlet.