A new lawsuit is challenging petroleum exploration in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, claiming that the seismic testing will do harm to the endangered beluga whales that live there.
The Native Village of Chickaloon, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Center for Biological Diversity, and Center for Water Advocacy are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
They are charging that the National Marine Fisheries Service didn’t perform its duty in issuing exploration permits to Apache Alaska Corp., including high-intensity seismic exploration.
“Each year, there are fewer and fewer of these whales left. Oil and gas drilling activities expose Cook Inlet beluga whales to earsplitting underwater noise that threatens their survival. All that noise in the marine environment makes survival impossible for these endangered whales,” Taryn Kiekow, an attorney for the NRDC, said in an announcement of the lawsuit.
The noise from air guns in close distances causes hearing loss and death in whales, and over longer distances causes the whales to abandon their habitat and cease foraging. The noise blocks whale calls over thousands of miles, degrading their ability to communicate and breed.
“Belugas are sacred to my tribe and part of our tradition,” said Gary Harrison, traditional chief of Chickaloon Native Village. “Because so few of the whales remain, we no longer hunt them. Indigenous peoples are working to protect these whales, yet industry can come into the Cook Inlet and harass 300 beluga whales every year as they look for oil and gas. It’s simply wrong.”
“Our concern is that, with all the attention on the Arctic, Cook Inlet is falling through the cracks. With fewer than 300 beluga left in the Cook Inlet, it is hard to imagine that the ‘incidental harassment authorization’ could not significantly contribute to their extinction. This is a no-brainer for us,” said Center for Water Advocacy President Hal Shepherd.
“Cook Inlet is rapidly losing its belugas, and these smart, beautiful animals are unique and irreplaceable,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Alaska Director Rebecca Noblin. “The Fisheries Service should be doing everything in its power to protect them from dying off, not rubber-stamping every risky oil and gas project that comes along.”
The genetically distinct Cook Inlet beluga whales have dropped in number from 1300 whales not that long ago, to 284 in 2011.
The Cook Inlet beluga whale was placed on the endangered species list in October 2008.