Beluga Whales Listed as Endangered
The New York Times reported that despite Gov. Sarah Palin's efforts to keep beluga whales from coming under increased protections, the federal government placed beluga whales that live in Alaska's Cook Inlet on the endangered species list on Friday.
The population of the small, whitish whales declined by almost 50 percent during the late 1990's, and federal scientists say that previous protections, including the limitation of subsistence hunting by Native Alaskans, did not foster a rebound. Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said about 375 whales have been counted in Cook Inlet each of the past two years.
"In spite of protections already in place, Cook Inlet beluga whales are not recovering," James Balsiger, an acting assistant administrator in charge of the agency’s fisheries programs, said in a written statement declaring that the whales are in danger of extinction.
The statement drew attention to Gov. Palin's standpoints on environmental issues. The Rebublican nominee for vice president has been scrutinized for her ambiguous statements about climate change and her efforts to prevent polar bears from being declared a threatened species as well.
Gov. Palin's administration fought both the polar bear and the beluga listing because of their potential to restrict coastal and offshore oil and gas developments. The beluga listing may also affect a proposed bridge over Knick Arm that would connect Anchorage to the Matanuska-Valley and Gov. Palin's hometown of Wasilla
"I am especially concerned that an unnecessary federal listing and designation of critical habitat would do serious long-term damage to the vibrant economy of the Cook Inlet area," the governor said in statement.
In a statement on Friday, Gov. Palin called the listing "premature." Her office said the beluga population has seen an increase since the existing recovery program was implemented in 2000 under the Marine Mammals Protection Act.