The NYT reports that Cook Inlet Beluga Whales were listed as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act yesterday.
The relatively small, whitish whales, sometimes visible from downtown Anchorage, declined by almost 50 percent in the late 1990s, and federal scientists say they have not rebounded despite a series of protections, including a halt to subsistence hunting by Alaska Natives. About 375 whales have been counted in Cook Inlet each of the last two years, according to scientists with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
This listing is likely to get some attention because, as the NYT notes, it was opposed by Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
As with the polar bear, Ms. Palin’s administration opposed the beluga listing in part because of its potential to restrict coastal and offshore oil and gas development. The beluga listing could also affect other projects, including the expansion of the Port of Anchorage and a proposed bridge over Knik Arm that would connect Anchorage to the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and Ms. Palin’s hometown, Wasilla.
“I am especially concerned,” the governor said in a written statement in August 2007, when her administration submitted documents to fight the listing, “that an unnecessary federal listing and designation of critical habitat would do serious long-term damage to the vibrant economy of the Cook Inlet area.”
On Friday, Ms. Palin said the state had had “serious concerns about the low population of belugas in Cook Inlet for many years,” but she called the listing “premature.” Her administration challenged the federal government’s data, as it did with the polar bear decision.
The official NOAA Fisheries announcement of the listing is here.