Then and Now
The Cook Inlet beluga whale population was estimated at 1,300 animals in 1979. Sadly, the last population estimate — in 2009—put their numbers at 321, with an expected 1-2% decline per year. So although protected under the *Endangered Species Act, today the Cook Inlet beluga whale still finds itself on a downward trajectory.
Key Recovery Milestones
In April 2007, in response to a petition by a coalition of 11 national and local environmental groups, including Defenders, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed to list the Cook Inlet beluga as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. However, a year later, in April 2008, NMFS failed to meet the deadline for a final decision and formally announced that it would be up to 6 more months before they decided whether to offer Endangered Species Act protection to the Cook Inlet beluga. (See our *press release.)
In September 2008, NMFS released survey results showing that the Cook Inlet beluga whale population failed to grow as some industry and government interests had speculated, further highlighting the need for protections, which NMFS finally granted on October 17, 2008, when it formally declared the Cook Inlet beluga whale an endangered species. Critical habitat was proposed for the whale in December 2009.
Meanwhile, the State of Alaska sued in court to block the listing claiming it was unnecessary and would hurt the local economy. But on November 21, 2011, the court rejected Alaska’s lawsuit and upheld protections for the whale.