Petition to List the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Under the Endangered Species Act

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Beluga whales in Cook Inlet have experienced a rapid decline in at least the last four years. Fewer than 350 whales remain from a population that may have once been over a thousand. The Cook Inlet population of beluga whales is isolated from all other beluga whale stocks in Alaska. Its small population size, and its seasonal aggregations near Anchorage make it extremely vulnerable to continued hunting, impacts from oil and gas industry activities, conflicts with fishing, toxic contamination from industrial and urban sources, disturbances from vessel traffic and natural sources of mortality such as killer whale predation and strandings. The most immediate cause of the beluga whale decline is overhunting by Alaska Natives.

The individual petitioner, Joel Blatchford, is a Native Alaskan beluga whale hunter who has stopped hunting because of the serious decline in the Cook Inlet population. The remaining petitioners are conservation organizations who share an interest in protecting the Cook Inlet beluga whale from extinction.

This petition asks the National Marine Fisheries Service, which has jurisdiction over marine mammals, to list Cook Inlet beluga whales as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The ESA requires that a population be listed as endangered when it faces the threat of extinction from overutilization, when existing regulatory mechanism are inadequate, when its habitat is threatened, when it is vulnerable to disease or predation and when there are other manmade factors affecting its continued existence. Each of these factors is affecting Cook Inlet beluga whales.

Petitioners are requesting critical habitat designation for Cook Inlet beluga whales in conjunction with a request for listing under the ESA. A species’ critical habitat includes those areas which are essential for the health, continued survival, and recovery of the population. Petitioners also request that NMFS take immediate action to implement emergency regulations to regulate hunting to protect Cook Inlet beluga whales. Such regulation is need until the population decline is halted and reversed, and until regulations have been developed in conjunction with the Native community to limit the subsistence harvest and promote the conservation of beluga whales. Unless immediate action is taken, the unregulated harvest of Cook Inlet beluga whales will continue throughout the 1999 hunting season, bringing the species ever closer to the brink of extinction.

PETITIONERS

Joel Blatchford
1983 Waldron Drive
Anchorage, AK 99507

Alaska Community Action on Toxics
135 Christensen Drive
Anchorage, AK 99501
Contact: Pam Miller

Center for Biological Diversity
P.O. Box 40090
Berkeley, CA 94704-4090
Contact: Brendan Cummings

National Audubon Society
308 G Street, Suite 217
Anchorage, AK 99501
Contact: John Schoen

Alaska Center for the Environment
519 W. 8th Avenue, Suite 201
Anchorage, AK 99501
Contact: Cliff Eames

Alaska Wildlife Alliance
P.0. Box 202022
Anchorage, AK 99520
Contact: Dr. Paul Joslin

Center for Marine Conservation
425 G Street, Suite 400
Anchorage, AK 99501
Contact: Kris Balliet

Trustees for Alaska
725 Christensen Drive, Suite 4
Anchorage, AK 99501-2101
Contact: Valerie Brown

The above-listed petitioners formally request that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) list the Cook Inlet population of the beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1531 - 1544. This petition is filed under 5 U.S.C. 553(e) and 50 C.F.R. part 424.14. Petitioners’ also request that Cook Inlet beluga whale critical habitat be designated concurrent with its listing, pursuant to 50 CFR part 414.12 and 5 U.S.C. 553.

NMFS has jurisdiction over this petition. This petition sets in motion a specific process, placing definite response requirements on NMFS.

The individual petitioner is an Inupiat Eskimo, living in Anchorage, who has hunted beluga whales in Cook Inlet since 1970. He stopped hunting whales several years ago because of his concern over the continued survival of beluga whales in Cook Inlet. The organizational petitioners are all conservation organizations with an interest in protecting the Cook Inlet population of beluga whales.

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