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NOAA Fisheries issues recovery plan for Cook Inlet beluga whales

Recovery expected to take two generations (50 years)


A Cook Inlet beluga whale surfaces in Eagle Bay on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson where the Eagle River enters Cook Inlet.

© Chris Garner, DOD JBER, 8/18/2014

NOAA Fisheries is releasing its recovery plan for the Cook Inlet beluga whale, which will guide efforts to recover the species to a point where they can be removed from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.
"This plan is a roadmap for how NOAA Fisheries and our partners can address threats to Cook Inlet belugas and work together towards recovery," said Jon Kurland, the agency's Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources.
The recovery plan identifies and assesses ten potential threats, and indicates the risk each threat poses to Cook Inlet beluga whales. Threats of high concern include catastrophic events (such as natural disasters, spills, and mass strandings), in-water noise, and the cumulative and synergistic effects of multiple stressors. The plan also identifies criteria that could lead to reclassifying Cook Inlet beluga whales from endangered to threatened status, and ultimately to delisting due to recovery.
NOAA Fisheries listed Cook Inlet beluga whales as endangered in 2008 and designated critical habitat for the population in 2011. NOAA Fisheries estimates the population of Cook Inlet beluga whales to be just 340 animals, and the 10-year population trend continues to show declines.
The Cook Inlet beluga whale is one of eight endangered species that NOAA Fisheries has identified as part of the nationwide Species in the Spotlight initiative to stabilize population declines and focus resources on the species that are most at risk of extinction.
The recovery strategy will be periodically modified and updated as new information becomes available. The plan was developed with assistance of a recovery team comprised of scientific experts who were advised by a panel of stakeholders.

Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Recovery Plan

In October 2008, NMFS listed the Cook Inlet beluga whales as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Section 4(f) of the ESA requires NMFS to develop and implement a recovery plan for the conservation and survival of the Cook Inlet belugas, unless such a plan will not promote the conservation of the species.

The Recovery Plan must include: 1) a description of site-specific management actions that may be necessary to achieve the plan’s goal for the conservation and survival of the Cook Inlet belugas; 2) objective, measurable criteria which, when met, would result in a determination that the Cook Inlet belugas may be removed from the ESA; 3) estimates of the time required and the cost to carry out those measures needed to achieve the plan’s goal and to achieve intermediate steps toward that goal

In 2010, NMFS convened a Recovery Team to aide in the development of a draft Recovery Plan for Cook Inlet beluga whales. The Recovery Team was composed of two voluntary advisory groups: a Science Panel and a Stakeholder Panel. The first meeting of the Recovery Team was in March 2010. In March 2013, the Recovery Team provided NMFS with a first draft of the Recovery Plan and the team disbanded. On May 15, 2015, NMFS published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the availability of the draft Recovery Plan for public review and soliciting comments about the draft Recovery Plan through July 14, 2015. NMFS also solicited targeted peer reviews during this time period. NMFS took public and peer review comments into consideration when making revisions to the draft Recovery Plan and before releasing a final version of the Recovery Plan. The final version of the Recovery Plan was released in January 2017.

Recovery Plan

Recovery Team - Disbanded March 2013

Related Information

 Species in the Spotlight:
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