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Sarah Palin vs. the endangered beluga whales

October 17, 2008 |  2:51 pm

Belugawhale

A small, isolated population of beluga whales in the Cook Inlet, Alaska, was granted federal protection as an endangered species, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced today.

The decision came over the objections of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and other supporters of the proposed Knik Arm Bridge that would cross the inlet, connecting Anchorage to its northern suburbs.

"This $600-million project is perhaps the single biggest threat to the beluga as it would block a key feeding area, not to mention the noise from pile driving and the risk of spills from the bridge," said Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity. His group initially petitioned for federal protections, which require that bridge builders consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service and show how the construction will not harm the remnant population of about 350 belugas in the Inlet surrounded by urbanized areas.

Healthier U.S. populations of belugas are located in Alaska's Bristol Bay, the eastern Bering Sea, the Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea. Canada also has various populations of belugas, some of them healthy and some under stress from urbanization on the St. Lawrence River.

-- Kenneth R. Weiss

Photo: Beluga whale at the Vancouver Aquarium  Credit: Kenneth R. Weiss/Los Angeles Times

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