On January 28, the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) announced it had been overestimating the number of endangered beluga whales for years in Cook Inlet, and said the “population is estimated to be smaller and declining more quickly than previously thought.”
Two days later, Inletkeeper joined the Center for Biological Diversity in a notice of intent to sue NMFS for its failure to consider the beluga’s plight in the context of Hilcorp’s oil and gas exploration work in Lower Cook Inlet, which include 24/7 blasts from seismic airguns for weeks at a time.
While NMFS is supposed to be the nation’s leading marine mammal protection agency, in reality, it has been an anemic and toothless lapdog to the oil and gas industry in Cook Inlet, where the beluga population has plummeted from over 1,300 whales in the 1970’s to today’s estimate of 279 individuals.
In 2015, NMFS listed the Cook Inlet beluga whale as a recovery priority #1, which means the beluga’s extinction “is almost certain in the immediate future because of a rapid population decline or habitat destruction.” Yet that did not stop NMFS from authorizing Hilcorp’s seismic blasting operations in Lower Cook Inlet, nor has it prompted the agency to scrutinize Hilcorps’ ongoing discharge of more than 2 billion gallons of toxic oil and gas wastes into critical habitat for the beluga each year.
Inletkeeper lead the fight to secure endangered species status for the Cook Inlet beluga in 2008. And we’ve fought oil and gas leasing in Lower Cook Inlet for decades. Now, with the recent crash of Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska due to climate change, the stresses to our marine systems from industrial activities are clearly taking a toll.
To learn more about Hilcorp’s seismic blasting operations in Lower Cook Inlet and what they mean for the beluga whale, go here and here. And to listen to a recording of Hilcorp’s seismic blasting underwater, go here.
In the end, the fate of the beluga whale must fall on the National Marine Fisheries Services, because for too many years its hapless and complacent bureaucrats have turned a blind eye to their professional obligations, all so some Texas oil men can grab a few more bucks.
Enough is enough. NMFS needs to do its job.