Salvation (and media attention) for endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales

The unique population of beluga whales in Cook Inlet, Alaska, has finally gained protection as an endangered species. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made the announcement on Friday, after several years of requests by the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission and conservation groups like the NRDC.

This genetically distinct group of beluga are isolated from any other population of the species, and has dramatically dropped in numbers over the last few years. Just 375 or so remain in Cook Inlet, down from 1,300 two decades ago. Some previous protections existed before Friday's announcement, but they had not helped the population to recover.

Alaska Governor -- and Republican VP candidate -- Sarah Palin had opposed protecting the beluga, "in part because of its potential to restrict coastal and offshore oil and gas development" according to The New York Times. On Friday, she called the NOAA's move "premature" and challenged the data behind the decision.

Palin's role in this story has actually given it much wider exposure than usual for news about endangered species. So far, according to Google News, more than 500 news sources have picked up on beluga's protection. Quite a few of them list Palin's name in the headline.

Too bad we can't get the media (and the public) to take notice more often, but all the same, let's take a moment to celebrate this rare victory for the beluga whale.