Public input sought on recovery plan for endangered Cook Inlet belugas

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is asking for public input on a new plan the agency hopes could eventually take Cook Inlet beluga whales off the endangered species list.

The new plan addresses 10 potential threats to the species' population. Natural disasters, oil spills and mass strandings are considered "threats of high relative concern," NOAA said.

The plan recommends more than two dozen "implementation actions" to assist in the belugas' recovery, which include continued monitoring of the whales, creation of a "Cook Inlet Beluga Recovery Coordinator" position and assessing the impacts of things like disease and habitat changes on the belugas.

"The draft plan also sets the criteria that would need to be met to reclassify the status of Cook Inlet belugas from endangered status to threatened, and eventually to declare the whales recovered," NOAA said.

Cook Inlet beluga whales were listed as endangered by NOAA Fisheries in 2008. The population was estimated at 340 animals in 2014.

The public comment period opens Friday and will remain open for 60 days. Read the full plan here.

Written comments can be sent to Jon Kurland at P.O. Box 21668, 709 W. Ninth St., Room 420, Juneau, Alaska 99802. Comments can also be submitted electronically.

Megan Edge

Megan Edge is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch and Alaska Dispatch News.