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Statistically Speaking: Governor Palin’s Whales

by Bill Chameides | January 16th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

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A few years back I saw these four belugas at the Georgia Aquarium.

Guess who’s back in the news? Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. This time, the reports do not center on her wardrobe, looks, or speeches, but rather on whales and the lawsuit she has slapped on the U.S. government.

Palin does not want beluga whales protected by the U.S. endangered species law. (See related whale post from June.) The apparent reason is that the whales hang out in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, a spot that just happens to be prime real estate for new development and oil and gas exploration.

We’re all pretty familiar with the situation regarding the need for drilling for new oil and gas (see here, here, and here). Now here are a few data points concerning belugas.

Beluga Whales by the Numbers

Estimated number of belugas in the world today: more than 150,000 (IUCN)

Estimated number of whales in the Cook Inlet area in 1980: more than 1,000 (NOAA)

Estimated number in 1994: 653 (NOAA)

Estimated number today: 302 (IUCN)

Estimated number of barrels of oil in the area: 77.5 million (Alaska)

Estimated amount of natural gas: 1.27 trillion cubic feet (Alaska)

About how much of the region’s recoverable oil reserve has been produced: 90% (CIRCAC)

Chance Cook Inlet beluga whales will be extinct in 100 years: 39% (NOAA)

And by the way if you are in Atlanta (Chicago, Vancouver, or San Diego) and wanting to see a beluga, stop by the aquarium.

Sources

Alaska Department of Natural Resources – www.dog.dnr.state.ak.us/oil/products/publications/annual/report.htm
Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council – www.circac.org/documents/pdf/brochures/AOGA_CI_Fact_Sheet.PDF
E&E News Daily (subscription required) – www.eenews.net/eenewspm/2009/01/14/6
IUCN 2008 Red List – www.iucnredlist.org/details/6335
NOAA – www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2008/20080930_belugawhale.html
NOAA, Federal Register, Endangered Status for the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale – www.fakr.noaa.gov/frules/73fr62919.pdf

More on Cook Inlet Beluga Whales

NOAA – www.fakr.noaa.gov/protectedresources/whales/beluga.htm
National Geographic blog – blogs.nationalgeographic.com/blogs/news/chiefeditor/2008/10/beluga-whales.html
Sea World’s Beluga whale resources:
www.seaworld.org/animal-info/info-books/beluga/index.htm

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