[MARMAM] NOAA Designates Critical Habitat for Cook Inlet Beluga Whale

Jonathan Shannon Jonathan.Shannon at noaa.gov
Wed Apr 20 10:43:14 PDT 2011


*NOAA Designates Critical Habitat for Cook Inlet Beluga Whale*

NOAA's Fisheries Service announced April 8, 2011 it is designating two 
areas of Alaska's Cook Inlet as critical habitat for the endangered Cook 
Inlet beluga whale. Scientists estimate there are less than 350 Cook 
Inlet beluga whales left in the wild. This distinct population segment 
was listed as endangered in October 2008.

The critical habitat comprises 3,016 square miles (7,809 square 
kilometers) of marine and estuarine environments considered by 
scientists to be essential for the whales' survival. These areas contain 
important biological and physical features for these cetaceans, such as 
feeding areas near the mouths of salmon streams. Not all of the current 
range of these whales was found to be critical.

The critical habitat designation, required under the Endangered Species 
Act, only affects activities that involve a federal permit, license or 
funding and which may affect critical habitat, such as construction and 
operation of oil rigs, port construction, dredging, or Environmental 
Protection Agency-authorized discharges into Cook Inlet.

One designated area includes the upper portions of Cook Inlet, Turnagain 
Arm and Knik Arm where belugas concentrate in summer months. The other 
area includes areas where the population congregates in the winter, 
which includes the middle of Cook-inlet, foraging areas along the 
western shore of lower Cook Inlet, and Kachemak Bay along east of Cook 
Inlet near the town of Homer.

NOAA's Fisheries Service has excluded the Port of Anchorage from 
critical habitat because of its importance to national security, and the 
Eagle River Flats Range on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson because this 
area provides benefit to beluga whales under an existing Department of 
Defense Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan.

NOAA's Fisheries Service based its designation on the results of more 
than 20 years of research, and has completed an economic analysis on the 
critical habitat designation. That analysis found that benefits of the 
designation to beluga whales exceeded the costs

*Public Input*

NOAA's Fisheries Service developed the final rule after an extensive 
public input process which included an initial 60-day comment period on 
the proposed rule, which was extended an additional 30 days. Four public 
hearings were also held. As a result of the public hearings and open 
comment periods, more than 135,000 individual submissions were received. 
The agency considered all public comments in developing the final rule, 
and provided responses to all significant issues raised by respondents.

This rule will become effective 30 days after date of publication in the 
Federal Register. The final rule, maps, status reviews, and other 
materials supporting this final rule can be found at 
http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/protectedresources/whales/beluga/management.htm#habitat 
<http://www.alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/protectedresources/whales/beluga/management.htm#habitat> 


-- 
Jonathan Shannon
NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr
Outreach Specialist
(301) 713-2319 x 117
jonathan.shannon at noaa.gov

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