Controversial new habitat designation for the Beluga whale


Author:  Damien M. Schiff

Earlier this month, the National Marine Fisheries Service designated about 3,000 square miles of aquatic habitat as critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act for Cook Inlet distinct population segment of beluga whale.  The designation is the combined result of NMFS's 2008 endangered listing for the whale population, and a 2009 lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity to force the Service to designate critical habitat for the whale.  The designation is controversial both because of the significant economic impact the designation will have on fishing and resource extraction, and because the State of Alaska last year filed suit challenging the whale's listing.  The nub of Alaska's argument is that the Cook Inlet population of beluga whale is basically identical to other beluga whales, and should not be treated differently.  Alaska Governor Sean Parnell had strong words for the Service's designation.