NOAA takes steps to designate beluga habitat

Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009

ANCHORAGE - A federal agency is taking steps to designate critical habitat for beluga whales off Anchorage, but a conservation group pushing for protection says the process is too slow.

"If we act quickly to designate and protect the critical habitat of the Cook Inlet beluga, this highly imperiled whale has a real chance of recovery," said Brendan Cummings, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued the federal government for failing to protect the white whales in the waters off Alaska's largest city.

"Unfortunately, the federal government has been lackadaisical about protecting the beluga, while the state of Alaska has been outright hostile to the species," Cummings said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said this week that it is "gathering and analyzing the best scientific data" and pulling together public information in order to designate critical habitat for the Cook Inlet belugas, whose numbers have dwindled to about 375 animals, down from approximately 1,300 in the 1980s.

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