Defenders in Alaska

Defenders in Action: Restoring the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale

Although protected by the Endangered Species Act, the Cook Inlet beluga whale’s numbers has been steadily declining since the 1990s. Since NOAA's surveys began in 1993, the lowest count was in 2005, which estimated only 278 of these Arctic icons still living in the wild. NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center announced its 2012 abundance estimate for the Cook Inlet belugas at 312, which is a slight increase from the previous year's estimate. Yet the 10-year trend reported by NOAA scientists in January 2013 shows that the population is declining at an average of 0.6 percent each year.  

How We’re Helping

  • Defenders of Wildlife worked as part of a coalition of local and national conservation groups, concerned citizens and scientists to get the Cook Inlet beluga whales listed as an endangered species in October of 2008. Following that, Defenders and our members helped the coalition secure 3,013 square miles as critical habitat for whales in April 2011. 
  • Defenders serves on the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Cook Inlet Beluga Recovery team, which completed and submitted a draft recovery plan for the species in March 2013.
  • Defenders was part of the coalition that successfully fought the state of Alaska in the courts as it tried to strip the whale’s Endangered Species Act protections, and we continue to fight for additional protection of the whale and its habitat.
  • Defenders worked with Friends of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge to fund and launch the Anchorage Coastal Beluga Survey in 2008, which trains citizen scientists each spring to collect land-based data on Cook Inlet beluga whale behavior, their locations and population groups during ice-free summer months. The data is shared with NMFS.

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Adult beluga whales are easily distinguished by their pure white skin, their small size and their lack of dorsal fin. The beluga has a broad and rounded head and a large forehead.