The beluga whale population in Alaska’s Cook Inlet has been declining since the 1980s. Hunting by Alaska Natives killed nearly half the remaining 650 whales in only four years between 1994 and 1998. Native hunting of the belugas has since been banned. Despite the decade long ban, the beluga whale populations have not rebounded. Recently, the State of Alaska filed a lawsuit to have the beluga’s removed from the Endangered Species List, arguing that continued protection would hinder commercial fishing, oil and gas exploration, and tourism, and could affect operations at Alaska military installations. Judge Royce C. Lambeth of U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., rejected the lawsuit.
“When the best available science predicts that a recently enacted ban on subsistence hunting will reverse the abrupt depletion of a species, a decade without any noticeable recovery in the species population should raise a concern that the true cause of its decline has not been fully addressed,” Lambeth wrote.