[MARMAM] Request for information - Cook Inlet beluga

Sylvia Brunner sylvia.brunner at gmail.com
Mon Apr 20 15:34:22 PDT 2009

Hi all,

I just received this Anchorage Daily News article from another list
and thought it might be appropriate here:

Anchorage Daily News

dhunter at adn.com

(04/17/09 01:00:34)

Federal biologists are deciding what parts of Cook Inlet are vital to
the survival of the area's population of beluga whales, and want to
know what you know about the animals.

The National Marine Fisheries Service listed the belugas as an
endangered species last October. Now scientists have to designate
"critical habitat" for the whales.

Once that happens, federal agencies will have to make sure they don't
fund activities or projects in those habitat areas that further
endanger the whales.

NMFS is asking for help in answering several questions, including:

• What parts of the inlet are used by belugas, and when?

• What physical and biological features of the inlet are essential to
the whales' survival?

• What kinds of protection are important for those areas?

• What are the economic trade-offs? Are some areas so important for
other reasons that they should not be designated as "critical

• What current or planned activities or projects in Cook Inlet might
affect the whales' habitat?

"We aren't yet proposing a rule on critical habitat for the Cook Inlet
beluga whales, but we will," said Doug Mecum, acting Alaska
administrator for NMFS, in a written statement. "This notice is an
effort to get as much information as possible early in the process."

Comments and information will be accepted until May 14.

Studies have shown Cook Inlet's belugas are a genetically distinct
species and don't interact with belugas in other parts of the North
Pacific. A 1979 survey put the population at about 1,300 animals, but
during the 1990s their numbers plummeted and a survey in 1998
estimated about 350 whales remained in the inlet.

Subsistence hunting of the whales was largely curtailed, and
scientists hoped their numbers would recover. That has not happened.
The population now is believed to be 300 to 400 animals.

Comments and information about the Cook Inlet belugas can be sent to
the Protected Resources Division, NMFS, P.O. Box 21668, Juneau

Sylvia Brunner, PhD
Research Associate
Museum of Southwestern Biology
University of New Mexico
737 Edith Blvd. SE
Albuquerque,  NM 87102
Phone:  (505) 277-8017
            (505) 243-1029
Cell:      (905) 506-2148

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