Alaska’s Cook Inlet mini-hunt


Native hunters in Alaska are limited this summer to killing two beluga whales in Cook Inlet near Anchorage.

One beluga will be allocated to hunters from Tyonek, a Dena’ina community on Cook Inlet’s west coast. The other is reserved for the Alaska Native Marine Mammal Hunters’ Committee.

The committee represents about 60 Inupiat families who began hunting Cook Inlet belugas after moving to Anchorage or other communities in south-central Alaska from the Bering Sea and North Slope regions.

“We get to keep up our traditions even though we’re living in an urban setting — and nothing will stop it,” president Joel Blatchford told the Anchorage Daily News. “We get to do what we’ve always done.”

Between 2001 and 2004, only six adult belugas without calves can be killed, or shot and lost, from Cook Inlet, with four of these going to Tyonek and two reserved for Blatchford’s group.

Once numbering more than 1,300, the Cook Inlet beluga population crashed to an estimated 347 animals by 1998. Biologists blame the decline on overhunting.

The belugas were declared depleted under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, and no hunting was permitted in Cook Inlet from 1998 to 2000.

Last June, federal biologists estimated there were 386 belugas in Cook Inlet.

Environmental groups maintain the Cook Inlet belugas are still vulnerable to potential threats from oil development, fishing, urbanization, shipping, noise and pollution. They are pushing to have the population declared endangered and off limits to any hunting.

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