NOAA Releases Cook Inlet Beluga Recovery Plan

NOAA Fisheries has a draft recovery plan to rebuild the population of Cook Inlet beluga whales. The end goal is to one day remove Belugas from the endangered species list. Mandy Migura with the National Marine Fisheries Service says the agency wants to use public comment on this initial draft to create the final version.

“We would like the public to review the plan and let us know if we have missed any big issues or if they have any information that we haven’t considered that should be considered in this plan.”

The public comment period opened Thursday last week and will close on July 14. Migura says Cook Inlet’s belugas have an estimated population of 340 whales compared to an estimated 1,300 whales back in the 1970s.

She says NMFS first noticed the population’s decline in 1993 when the agency began its first comprehensive aerial surveys of Cook Inlet Belugas. The population was reduced by an additional 50 percent between 1994 and 1998 and that decline was attributed to unsustainable subsistence harvests.

“We have worked with our co-management partners and since 1995 the harvest has been greatly reduced. There has been no harvest since 2005. Since then the population doesn’t appear to be rebounding like we thought it would.”

NMFS has not been able to identify a clear reason why the population has not been replenished since subsistence hunts were closed. Migura says the final version of the recovery plan will come after the public comment period closes depending on how long it takes the agency to review and incorporate public input.

She says public comment could be crucial to this process especially if individuals can not only point out concerns the agency might have missed but also provide specific information that should be added to the plan.