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Environmentalists invoke belugas in effort to halt Alaska oil exploration

(Reuters, 1 Feb 2020) Earlier this week, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service released a new population estimate showing the whales are fewer in number and declining faster than previously believed

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Two environmental groups on Friday issued notice that they intend to sue the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to void a permit allowing oil exploration in waters used by endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales.

Earlier this week, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a new population estimate showing the whales are fewer in number and declining faster than previously believed.

According to the new estimate, only 279 beluga whales remain in Cook Inlet, the NMFS said on Tuesday. The population, which was about 1,300 in 1979, and has declined at an annual rate of 2.3 percent over the past decade, more than four times as fast as previously believed, NMFS said.

"The new numbers are pretty daunting," said Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs suing to halt exploration planned by Hilcorp Energy Company in Cook Inlet.

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Reuters, 1 Feb 2020: Environmentalists invoke belugas in effort to halt Alaska oil exploration