Cook Inlet Beluga Whales
|More Whale Resources
Types of Whales
On October 22, 2008, The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) formally listed the Cook Inlet beluga whale, as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.
The listing took effect on December 22, 2008.
Beluga Whales (Delphinapterus leucas) are the white, toothed whales that inhabit cold waters in and around the Arctic Ocean and sub arctic areas of Russian, Norway, Greenland, Canada and the United States, including Alaska.
They are medium sized whales, with adults averaging about fifteen feet in length.
Cook Inlet beluga whales constitute one of five distinct stocks of Alaskan beluga whales. Little scientific information is known about the Cook Inlet population, and population estimates only began in earnest in the early 1990s. Since that time, population estimates have declined and reached a steady state, rather than increasing as earlier estimates projected.
- 1994 estimate - 653
- 1998 estimate - 347
- 2005 estimate - 278
- 2007 estimate - 375
No definitive reasons explaining the lack of population growth has been provided. However, scientists hypothesize that multiple stress sources, such as anthropogenic noise, pollution, decreasing food supply, increased predation by Orcas, among others, have been suggested as investigative starting points (see Trustees for Alaska).
Currently the Cook Inlet beluga population is not subject to commercial whaling. Under the terms of the Marine Mammals Protection Act (MMPA) the population is co-managed by the NMFS and the Cook Inlet Marine Mammal Council, a group of native Alaskans with traditional subsistence fishing rights.
Subsistence hunting of the Cook Island beluga stock has been greatly curtailed in the past few years. A NOAA press release stated only five whales were taken between 1999 and 2006. The annual subsistence hunt was cancelled for 2007.
In their 2008 Status Review, NMFS officials stated,
"With the very limited hunt between 1999 and 2007, NMFS anticipated that the population would begin to recover at a rate of 2% to 6% per year. When only the 1999-2007 time series of abundance estimates is considered, the rate of decline is estimated at -2.75% per year."
© 2007-2008 Patricia A. Michaels