The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announces the availability of the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas) Draft Recovery Plan for public review.
(From Federal Register) — Recovery plans describe actions beneficial to the conservation and recovery of species listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA), as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). NMFS began conducting comprehensive and systematic aerial surveys of the Cook Inlet beluga whale population in 1993. These surveys documented a decline in abundance from 653 whales in 1994 to 347 whales in 1998, a decline of nearly 50 percent. This rapid decline was associated with a substantial, unregulated subsistence hunt. Subsequent cooperative efforts between NMFS and Alaska Native subsistence users dramatically reduced subsistence hunts beginning in 1999. The most recent (2014) abundance survey indicates a population of 340 Cook Inlet beluga whales that has declined 0.4 percent per year over the past ten years.
Due to an incomplete understanding of the threats facing Cook Inlet beluga whales, NMFS is unable to identify with certainty the actions that will most immediately encourage recovery. Until we know which threats are limiting recovery, the strategy of this recovery plan is to focus on threats identified as medium or high concern. This should focus efforts and resources on actions that are more likely to benefit Cook Inlet beluga whale recovery.
NMFS is soliciting review and comment from the public and all interested parties on the draft Plan, and will consider all substantive comments received during the review period before submitting the Plan for final approval.