The beluga whale, also known as the “Canary of the Sea,” could become as much of a harbinger of danger as its feathered namesake. The pure white whales of Cook Inlet, Alaska are at a great risk of extinction due to fossil fuel extraction. Genetically distinct and physically isolated from other belugas, groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have petitioned to have the animals and their habitats protected under the Endangered Species Act. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the entire population of Cook Inlet beluga whales for 2012 numbered at only 321, a drastic reduction from the 1,300 whales that existed several decades before.
As of 2008, the government listed the Cook Inlet beluga whale under the Endangered Species Act. The protection was upheld in 2011 by a federal judge, thanks in large part to efforts by environmental activists. However, due to activities related to oil and gas drilling, industrial development, ship strikes, pollution, and a proposed mining project, the whales remain threatened by humans. Of particular concern is the use of airguns during fossil fuel exploration. As one of the loudest manmade sounds, the process harms the whales’ sensitive hearing and disrupts their ability to feed and breed. There is also evidence that such a cacophony, repeated once every ten seconds for months at a time, can severely depress commercial fish catches.
At present, the NRDC has filed a lawsuit against the Apache Alaska Corporation’s permit that allows them to kill 30 whales a year as a result of their energy exploration and extraction. They are also opposing the Pebble Mine, which would require the construction of a new deep water port, marine terminal, and slurry pipelines in beluga habitat. To find out what you can do to help the Cook Inlet beluga whale, visit the NRDC page for more information and to sign their petition.
Image via Wikimedia Commons user Russavia