Alaskan aboriginals asked to give up Cook Inlet beluga hunt


So many beluga whales stranded and died last year in upper Cook Inlet near Anchorage, Alaska, that biologists say aboriginal people should give up their quota of two animals next summer.

Last year, 20 whales died in the area. Five or six are suspected to have died when 46 whales became stranded in shallow water in August.

U.S. Marine Fisheries Service previously said the hunt would be stopped if more than 18 whales died in a season.

The agency is now asking groups to suspend the hunt as part of the 2004 co-management agreement.

But two Cook Inlet aboriginal organizations question whether the agency’s biologists have taken into account increases in sightings of grey baby belugas.

The actual number of whales in Cook Inlet could be anywhere from 289 to 440. Once at 1,300, Cook Inlet’s belugas plunged to 347 by 1998. The drop was blamed on overhunting, although other factors include pollution from Anchorage, discharges from oil platforms, seismic exploration for oil and gas deposits, shipping and noise.

The whales were designated as depleted in 2000, and hunting was restricted to one or two whales per year.

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