WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today issued the following statement after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the Cook Inlet beluga population is in danger of extinction, and has been listed as endangered.


“I am deeply disappointed with NOAA’s decision to list the Cook Inlet beluga as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.  The population is at low levels, but it has increased 35 percent since 2005 and was stable in this year’s count. 


“While NOAA has determined that the Cook Inlet population is genetically and geographically distinct, it lacks sufficient information on seasonal movement and the causes of the long term population decline.  In fact, NOAA has collected a minimal amount of information on these whales since 2000.


“It is absolutely essential the agency work to determine what the potential causes might be and then take action based on that determination.  There are still too many significant scientific questions that remain and I believe it is difficult to justify a listing on a species where we have such a scarcity of data.   


“NOAA will identify and designate critical habitat within a year for areas in Cook Inlet.  I am concerned that this designation could lead to substantial delays for projects and activities due to the consultation process that is required under the ESA.  I am also worried that a listing opens the door to potential litigation that could seriously impact economic development.  It is vital for the agency to recognize the importance of this region to the state’s economy and residents, as nearly half of Alaska’s population relies on the resources and waters of Cook Inlet and 85 percent of the state’s goods come through the Port of Anchorage.”


NOAA stated that the recovery of the Cook Inlet whales is potentially hindered by

strandings; continued development within and along upper Cook Inlet and the cumulative effects on important beluga habitat; oil and gas exploration, development, and production; industrial activities that discharge or accidentally spill pollutants; disease; and predation by killer whales.