Imperiled beluga whales receive Endangered Species Act protections

Conservation groups applaud the long awaited decision

(10/17/2008) - ANCORAGE, Alaska – Cook Inlet beluga whales were thrown a life line by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), who announced today after a six month delay that beluga whales will now receive protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The announcement follows a petition filed by a coalition of conservation groups back in March 1999 and massive public support, calling on the Bush administration to stop delaying the decision. Over 180,000 comments from concerned Americans and Defenders of Wildlife members filled the agency’s inboxes – the most public comments that it has received for any prior proposed action, NMFS reports.

The following is a statement by Karla Dutton, the Alaska director of Defenders of Wildlife.

“We’re absolutely thrilled that the Cook Inlet beluga whales will finally receive the protections they need to recover. The science supporting NMFS’ decision to list the whale as an endangered species is clear. With only 375 whales left in the wild, we must do something now to ensure that they can continue to call Alaska’s waters home. We need to determine what is blocking the population from recovering and we look forward to working with NMFS to establish critical habitat for the whale.”

The Cook Inlet beluga whale population has been in a steady decline for over a decade. The agency estimates that the population has dipped as low as 278 whales in 2005. The whale’s status is so perilous that the scientific experts at the World Conservation Union (IUCN) in 2006 placed the Cook Inlet beluga on its Red List for critically endangered species.

Because beluga whales gather in river estuaries, human caused pollution is a significant danger to their health. Other threats include strandings, disease, contaminants, shipping vessel traffic, noise (including seismic testing), prey declines, predators (such as the killer whale) and human-driven habitat changes. 

Cook Inlet is the most populated and fastest growing watershed in Alaska. It is subject to many development pressures from oil and gas production, sewage discharges, contaminated runoff, spills, and potential impacts from proposed infrastructure projects – including the proposed Knik Arm Bridge, the Port of Anchorage Expansion, the Chuitna coal strip mine and the Port MacKenzie expansion –which potentially affect the Beluga whale and some of the whale’s most important habitat.

Learn more about what Defenders is doing to help Cook Inlet beluga whales.


Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit



Karla Dutton, Defenders of Wildlife, (907) 276-9420