Support Critical Habitat Designation for the Beluga Whale

  • by: Sierra Club
  • recipient: Ellen Sebastian, Assistant Regional Administrator - Protect Resources, Alaska Region, NOAA Fisheries
The Cook Inlet beluga is an isolated population of beluga whale and one of the most endangered populations of marine mammals in the world. During the 1980s the population numbered approximately 1,300 whales. Today that population is only about 300 individuals.

On December 1, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service announced its proposal to designate more than 3,000 square miles of ocean as critical habitat for the highly endangered Cook Inlet population of the beluga whale. That means the plan is open for public comment -- and you can add yours today!

Sign here to submit your comments to the NOAA and let them know that designating critical habitat would be a crucial first step in protecting this iconic species.
re: RIN 0648-AX50

Dear Ellen Sebastian,

I am writing in support of the recent critical habitat proposal for the Cook Inlet beluga whale. The more than 3,000 square miles of water that would be designated as critical habitat are vital for giving the whale the protection it should legally have under the Endangered Species Act since being listed as threatened in October 2008. This proposal would help ensure that the beluga population is given a legitimate chance to recover.

The Cook Inlet beluga is an isolated and genetically distinct population of beluga whale and one of the most endangered populations of marine mammals in the world. During the 1980s the population numbered approximately 1,300 whales. Today that population is only about 300 individuals. Hunting of the whale took its toll on the population in decades past but since hunting was curtailed in 1999, the number has continued to drop precipitously demonstrating that many other factors are at play.

[Your comment here]

The Cook Inlet is the most heavily populated and rapidly growing watershed in Alaska. The area has been subject to dramatic increases in offshore oil and gas development in the whales' habitat and increased pollution and sewage runoff. The whales are already on the brink of extinction and are now facing multiple new threats. One of the most pressing comes from the proposed Chuitna Coal Strip Mine, just 45 miles west of Anchorage, Alaska. The strip mine would decimate a salmon stream that supplies a portion of the Beluga's primary food source, in addition to dumping millions of gallons of toxic mining waste into the Cook Inlet watershed each day. According to the current proposals, the coal will be shipped overseas, increasing dangerous ship traffic through the Beluga's critical habitat. Additional threats include the Port of Anchorage expansion, the proposed Knik Arm Bridge, and the proposed export facility for Pebble Mine. Giving the Cook Inlet beluga the critical habitat designation as required by law would make sure that all future development in the area would not adversely impact the population and give it the opportunity to recover.

Once again, this proposal is a huge step forward to protecting this iconic and vitally important marine mammal. Please designate the habitat as critical and ensure the highest protections possible as the Cook Inlet beluga whale deals with a multitude of stressors in a changing environment and help the population recover.
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