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October 5, 2010

The HSUS Asks Government to Prevent Harmful Development in Endangered Whale Habitat

WASHINGTON — The Humane Society of the United States today asked the National Marine Fisheries Service to deny a permit for construction of a controversial billion-dollar bridge across the Knik Arm of the Cook Inlet in Alaska because its construction will  disrupt the only habitat for the federally endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale. 

Cook Inlet beluga whales have declined dramatically to a tiny population of slightly more than 300 and the Service estimates that they are still declining at a rate of 1.5 percent per year. The bridge would be constructed in an area of critically important habitat and one that is already subjected to multiple construction projects and activities causing harm to these endangered whales.

“This fragile population of whales cannot afford this massive construction project on top of the continual development in its habitat,” said Sharon Young, marine issues field director for The HSUS. “It’s time to protect the only home waters of this fragile and beloved whale.”

In addition to pollution from the construction and heavy vessel traffic in areas where belugas go to feed, the bridge construction would involve high intensity pile driving and continual construction noise. This intense noise pollution could disrupt feeding and resting of these extremely sensitive marine mammals, furthering the demise of the Belugas. In proposing to designate the area as critical habitat, the Service plainly states that “noise…that might cause the abandonment of important habitats would be expected to have consequences…in terms of survival and recovery.” Despite this caution and its own acknowledgement that this project could have cumulative effects on the beluga whale that could be substantial, the Service is considering allowing this project to go forward.

Facts:

  • Beluga whale young are dependent for long periods, nursing for up to 24 months until they have teeth and can feed on their own. 
  • As many as 60 percent of the beluga whales in Cook Inlet use the Knik Arm as an important seasonal feeding area, and some can be found there year-round.
  • The federal government listed Cook Inlet belugas as endangered in October 2008 and proposed the Knik Arm and other portions of Cook Inlet as Critical Habitat for them in 2009. In June 2010 the state of Alaska filed suit against the federal government, attempting to overturn the Endangered Species designation for Cook Inlet belugas. 
  • Because of the wide range of high pitched noises and “twitters” they make when communicating with each other, beluga whales are sometimes called “sea canaries.”
  • Beluga whales are gray when born but turn entirely white as they become adults.

For photos, click here.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org.

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