NOAA Releases Plan for Alaska Endangered Beluga Whales

2017-01-06T15:00:07+00:00 January 6, 2017|
NOAA announced a recovery plan for Beluga whales in Alaska. (Credit: Mike Johnston/Flickr)

(Click to enlarge) NOAA announced a recovery plan for Beluga whales in Alaska. (Credit: Mike Johnston/Flickr)

A federal plan for the recovery of an endangered Alaska beluga whale calls for a reduction in threats of high concern while scientists try to pinpoint what has kept the population from growing.

(From ABC News / By Dan Joling)– The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Wednesday announced its recovery plan for Cook Inlet beluga whales, a population listed as endangered since 2008.

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service acknowledges it does not know why the population hasn’t bounced back. In the absence of an answer, the agency will focus on research and potential threats, such as noise and the cumulative effects of “multiple stressors.”

“Until we know which threats are limiting this species’ recovery, the strategy of this recovery plan is to focus recovery efforts on threats identified as of medium or high relative concern,” the agency said.

The state of Alaska fought the endangered species listing of Cook Inlet belugas eight years ago and took issue with the recovery plan. Division of Wildlife Conservation director Bruce Dale in a statement said it contains untenable recovery criteria that will limit acceptance by interested parties and extend hurdles to development.

“The most critical action for recovering the Cook Inlet belugas will be to determine why the population isn’t growing,” Dale said. “The threats limiting recovery are unknown.”

A 1979 survey counted nearly 1,300 beluga whales. A 2014 survey estimated just 340 and a population continuing to trend downward.

The recovery plan calls for an upgrade to “threatened” status when the population reaches 520 animals and delisting when there are 780. Dale took issue with those targets.

“These demographic criteria are problematic because the number of animals in a population is not necessarily an indication of the risk of extinction,” Dale said. The plan includes threats-based recovery criteria that cannot be measured and are impossible to meet, he said.

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