Conservation Plan for the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas)
In 2000, NOAA Fisheries designated the Cook Inlet stock as depleted under the MMPA in response to a significant population decline. We also took steps to restrict subsistence harvest of Cook Inlet belugas. Only five whales were harvested between 1999 and 2005, and no subsistence harvest of this population has been allowed since 2006. In 2008, we developed a conservation plan for the Cook Inlet beluga whale.
The goal of this Conservation Plan is to restore the Cook Inlet beluga whale stock to a healthy, viable population that no longer is designated as depleted under the MMPA. This goal will be met when there is an increasing or sustained population of at least 780 whales (i.e., the stock maintains its minimum optimal sustainable population, OSP, level), and appropriate habitat is available that will support a restored population. It is imperative that beluga habitat is protected as well, otherwise the restored population may experience another decline and require redesignation as depleted.
The conservation strategy NMFS will employ to reach this goal is to (1) improve our understanding of the biology of Cook Inlet beluga whales and the factors limiting the population’s growth; (2) stop direct losses to the population; (3) protect valuable habitat, and (4) evaluate the effectiveness of these strategies and the success of the conservation actions in restoring the Cook Inlet beluga whale population.