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Critical Habitat Proposed for White Whale

WASHINGTON (CN) - The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration proposes to designate more than a third of the Cook Inlet in the state of Alaska as critical habitat for the endangered beluga whale. (CNS story on port.)

The agency estimates that there are only 300 of the whales remaining in the inlet, a nearly 80 percent decline in the beluga's numbers since the early 1980's.

Just over 3,000 square miles would be designated in the NOAA proposal in the upper portions of the Cook Inlet, the western shore of the lower Cook Inlet and Kachemak Bay.

Cook Inlet whales have been endangered by severe stranding events; continued development within and along upper Cook Inlet; discharge of industrial and municipal pollutants; predation by killer whales and losses of available prey to the fishing industry and destruction of prey habitat.

The NOAA's Fisheries Service status review of Cook Inlet beluga whales estimates that there is a 26 percent chance that these whales will become extinct in the next 100 years.

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