Cook Inlet belugas not endangered, NOAA says

Posted: Friday, June 23, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Federal regulators have decided against listing Cook Inlet's beluga whales as endangered, the National Marine Fisheries Service said Thursday.

''Based on the data obtained from a status survey of the beluga whale population completed in 1998, and a thorough review of human-related activities in Cook Inlet, we are confident that we have identified the source of the decline, which is overharvesting,'' said Jim Balsiger, Alaska regional administrator for fisheries with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in a statement. ''The impact can be managed under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Therefore, listing under the Endangered Species Act is not necessary at this time.''

Steps have been taken to protect the whales and allow for recovery of the population, according to the agency.

Earlier this month, the NMFS listed Cook Inlet belugas as ''depleted'' under the act. The designation is not as strong as an ''endangered'' listing, which environmentalists had wanted and development advocates feared.

The number of the small white whales in the inlet declined from about 1,000 a decade ago to about 350 currently.

The agency will continue to work with Alaska Native organizations in the future management of the beluga population, Balsiger said. Unregulated harvesting was halted last year.

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