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Recovery Strategy for the Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas), St. Lawrence Estuary Population in Canada


Appendix 1. Recovery team

Members of the St. Lawrence estuary beluga recovery team

Alain Armellin
Environment Canada
Pierre Béland
Institut National d’Ecotoxicologie du Saint-Laurent
David Berryman
Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et des Parcs du Québec
Hugues Bouchard
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Guy Cantin
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Catherine Couillard
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Michel Fournier
INRS, Institut Armand-Frappier
Édouard Hamel
Croisière AML
Hélène Pinard
Rio Tinto Alcan
Michel Lebeuf
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Isabelle Gauthier
Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune du Québec
Véronique Lesage
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Lena Measures
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Nadia Ménard
Parks Canada, Saguenay-Saint-Laurent Marine Park
Robert Michaud
Groupe de Recherche et d’Éducation pour les Mammifères Marins
Tom Smith
EMC Corporation
Chantale Thiboutot
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Tonya Wimmer
World Wildlife Fund (Canada)

Appendix 2. Contaminants

This appendix provides an overview of the principal groups of chemical compounds that have found their way into the habitat of the belugas, mainly from human sources. Some contaminants are persistent in the environment. A compound is considered persistent when its half-life (the time it takes for the concentration of a compound to be reduced by one half) is greater than two months when suspended in water or six months when deposited in sediment (as defined in Schedule D of the Stockholm Convention). Moreover, chemical compounds that are fat-soluble tend to bioaccumulate in adipose tissues and are biomagnified throughout the food chain. Other contaminants are either not persistent or only minimally so, and consequently do not bioaccumulate in the biota or do so only slightly. Situated between these two categories are certain contaminants that can bioaccumulate without bioamplification (such as lead), or are bioaccumulated as organic molecules (such as mercury). Belugas are exposed to chemical compounds through their diet and environment.

Species that belugas prey on constitute the primary source of contamination. However, water, air, and sediments are also potential sources. It is difficult to identify precise trends in contaminant concentrations in individual whales because of the significant differences across individuals, even in animals of the same age and sex (Muir et al., 1996a; Lebeuf et al., 2001). These differences include variability in size, growth rate, ratio of fat to body weight, energy efficiency, ability to assimilate contaminants in food sources, and of course, history of exposure to contaminants (Hickie et al., 1999). Males and females show evidence of different concentrations of several contaminants. This discrepancy may be explained by the transfer of contaminants from mother to calf (Addison and Brodie, 1977) and possibly by differences in the diet of males and females (Lesage et al., 2001; Nozères, 2006). Several contaminants are fat-soluble and accumulate in the fatty tissues. These tissues perform critical functions during gestation and lactation, and the females of many species of marine mammals transmit a portion of their contaminants to their young (Addison and Stobo, 1993; Gauthier et al., 1998; Hickie et al., 1999). This accounts for the high contaminant concentrations in newborn calves and throughout the critical periods of growth as the endocrine, immune, and nervous systems develop (Colborn and Smolen, 1996; Gauthier et al., 1998).

Tissues from belugas in the St. Lawrence show significantly higher concentrations of most contaminants than tissues from Arctic belugas (Massé et al., 1986; Martineau et al., 1987; Muir et al., 1990; Ray et al., 1991; McKinney et al., 2006). This is attributable in large measure to the proximity of contamination sources (Lebeuf and Nunes, 2005).

Organochlorine compounds (OC)

Most organochlorines are composed of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). They are synthesized primarily for use in industry and agriculture. Their toxic by-products and their effects on the environment have led to their regulation or even outright prohibition in many countries. In 2004, more than 100 countries, including Canada, signed the Stockholm Convention on POPs, which aims to restrict or prohibit the use of twelve organochlorine compounds: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dichloro-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane (DDT), aldrin, chlordane, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, toxaphene, dioxins, and furans. Nevertheless, despite regulation and prohibition, organochlorine compounds and their by-products are still found in St. Lawrence Estuary belugas (for a review, see Lebeuf, 2009). Concentrations of certain organochlorine compounds found in St. Lawrence belugas up to 100 times higher than in Arctic belugas, depending on the contaminant (Martineau et al., 1987; Muir et al., 1990; Béland et al., 1993; McKinney et al., 2006). Collectively, OCs are known to produce alterations in the endocrine, reproductive, immune, metabolic, and neurological functions of many species (De Guise et al., 1995; Kingsley, 2002). Moreover, even at low concentrations, the synergistic effect of OCs combined with long-term exposure, stress, other health issues, poor nutrition, and foetal exposure could present a threat to the belugas. The effects on the endocrine system could be particularly serious due to this system’s critical role in growth, development, and metabolic regulation (Colborn et al., 1993). An alteration in immune response can suffice for a pathogen to infect certain organs and cause disease. The seriousness of these effects on newborn calves depends in large measure on the time of exposure, and the effects may differ between mother and foetus. Some authors have suggested that high organochlorine concentrations may be responsible for the apparent stagnation in the population growth of the St. Lawrence belugas (Massé et al., 1986; Martineau et al., 1987; Béland et al., 1992; Hammill et al., 2007). However, there is little information available about the direct and indirect effects of organochlorines on belugas at this time.

Organochlorine Pesticides

Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane (DDT) is a pesticide that is currently prohibited in North America but was once widely used. Although it has been prohibited in Canada since 1978, present-day sources of this chemical continue to pollute the St. Lawrence River. These sources include leachate from landfill sites, long-range atmospheric transport of DDT evaporated from contaminated soil, incineration of municipal waste, and sediments created by the erosion of DDT-contaminated soil (Pham et al., 1993). Several authors have measured DDT levels (or levels of the by-products dichloro-diphenyl-dichloro-ethane [DDD] or dichloro-diphenyl-ethane [DDE]) in St. Lawrence belugas (Massé et al., 1986; Muir et al., 1996a; Metcalfe et al., 1999; Lebeuf et al., 2007). DDT levels are generally higher in males than in females. (Martineau et al., 1987; Muir et al., 1996a; Letcher et al., 2000 ). Lebeuf et al. (2007) reported a decrease in DDT levels in the tissues of St. Lawrence belugas between 1987 and 2002, although the decrease in DDE (a metabolite of DDT) was observed in females only. DDT and its metabolites are believed to be endocrine disruptors in many species (Subramanian et al., 1987; Bernard et al., 2007; Leaños-Castañeda et al., 2007).

Toxaphene is a complex mix of at least 1000 compounds, and was primarily used as a pesticide in replacement of DDT in the southern United States and northern Mexico in the 1970s, becoming the most widely used pesticide in the United States in the mid 70s. Although it has been prohibited in Canada and the United States since the early 1980s, it remains a contaminant of concern because of its persistence, volatility, and ability to bioaccumulate in organisms. It has been detected in the tissues of St. Lawrence belugas, but studies indicate a continuous decrease in concentrations since 1987 (Gouteux et al., 2003; Lebeuf et al., 2007). Arctic belugas show similar toxaphene levels to those in Estuary belugas, which suggests that this pollutant is transported via the atmosphere rather than issuing from a local source in the Great Lakes or along the St. Lawrence River (Muir et al., 1996a; MacLeod et al., 2002). Concentrations tend to be higher in male belugas (Muir et al., 1996a; Gouteux et al., 2003; Hobbs et al., 2003). Toxaphene is known to disrupt the thyroid gland, and it is hepatotoxic and immunotoxic in many animal species (International Program on Chemical Safety [IPCS], 2001). Although reported toxaphene levels are relatively low, this chemical has been shown to be two to six times more toxic than DDT, and it should be considered a contaminant of major concern in the St. Lawrence Estuary (Gouteux and Lebeuf, 2000).

Chlordane was used as an insecticide from the 1950s to the early 1990s, especially for termite control. It has been found in the tissues of St. Lawrence belugas (Muir et al., 1990; Muir et al., 1996a; Metcalfe et al., 1999; Hobbs et al., 2003). Lebeuf et al. (2007) detected no significant trend in chlordane concentrations in adult belugas between 1987 and 2002. The toxicity to fish of chlordane is well documented (IPCS, 1984a).

Mirex is another organochlorine pesticide that has been prohibited since the 1970s, and is still found in the tissues of St. Lawrence belugas (Muir et al., 1996a; Metcalfe et al., 1999). Mirex is an extremely stable, highly chlorinated molecule that was used as a pesticide and flame retardant in the United States. The primary source of mirex in the St. Lawrence Estuary is Lake Ontario, the sediments of which were contaminated by two American producers of the pesticide (Kaiser, 1978). Concentrations of this pesticide in the fatty tissues of belugas do not appear to have varied over the past decades (Lebeuf et al., 2007). Lake Ontario eels could have been the primary source of the mirex found in St. Lawrence belugas (Hodson et al., 1994; Gagnon and Bergeron, 1997). This contaminant is one of the rare organochlorines for which concentrations are similar in both males and females (Muir et al., 1996b; Lebeuf, 2009). Mirex is known to be toxic to aquatic organisms (Canada, 1977; IPCS, 1984b).

Lindane, the active ingredient in hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH), was prohibited for use as an insecticide in the United States and Canada, but it is still used as an ingredient in certain medications, especially for the treatment of lice. Hexachlorobenzene (HCB) is a fungicide that has not been used since the mid 1970s. According to Lebeuf et al. (2007) and Muir et al. (1996b), HCH and HCB levels in St. Lawrence belugas decreased between 1987 and 2002. Lindane likely affects the nervous system and provokes histological alterations in fish (IPCS, 1991; Pesce et al., 2008). HCB itself has been shown to be carcinogenic in laboratory animals, and it can affect several organs, most notably the liver (IPCS, 1997; Plante et al., 2007; Reed et al., 2007).

Dieldrin, endrin and aldrin are persistent organochlorine insecticides that are found in beluga tissues (Muir et al., 1996a; Hobbs et al., 2003). These pesticides were curtailed in the mid1970s, and they were no longer approved for use in Canada after 1991. Muir et al. (1996a) reported stable concentrations in male belugas and a decrease in concentrations in females between 1986 and 1994. These compounds are considered highly toxic to aquatic organisms, and studies in laboratory animals have shown them to be hepatotoxic (IPCS, 1989, 1992a).

Dioxins and Furans

Dioxins and furans are the most toxic contaminants, even at low concentrations. Polychlorodibenzene-p-dioxins are the by-products of chemical reactions produced by waste incinerators, paper mills, the plastics industry, steel mills, pesticide manufacturers, and fuel combustion. They can also occur naturally as a result of volcanic eruptions and forest fires. Once they are introduced into the environment, they do not begin to biodegrade for many years. Polychlorodibenzene-p-furans are released into the air through the incineration of PCBs. The concentrations of dioxins and furans found in tissues of St. Lawrence belugas range from very low to undetectable (Muir et al., 1996a). The low concentrations found in both the narwhal (Monodon monoceros) and the killer whale (Orcinus orca) indicate that some Odontoceti species may possess an enzyme that metabolizes these contaminants (Ono et al., 1987; Muir et al., 1996a; Norstrom et al., 1990). However, it should be kept in mind that any amount of exposure to dioxins and furans could be harmful. Dioxins remain highly toxic even in infinitely small quantities (Boening, 1998).

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

PCBs constitute a group of 209 related compounds (congeners) that are flame retardant, lubricant, and non-conducting. These qualities have made them very useful in the manufacture of electrical components. PCB production peaked in 1970 and was discontinued after 1979. However, contaminated sites and landfills remain sources of PCB contamination to this day. PCBs are still permitted in closed systems such as electrical transformers. A large part of the PCBs found in St. Lawrence belugas are believed to have come from Lake Ontario (Gagnon and Bergeron, 1997).

Belugas do not metabolize the different types of PCBs equally, and in certain cases, degradation of contaminants by the organism can produce metabolites that are sometimes even more toxic than the original compound. However, since 1987 contaminant concentrations in the fatty tissues of the St. Lawrence beluga have decreased (Muir et al., 1996b; Lebeuf et al., 2007). Some of the PCB congeners are alarmingly toxic, and are responsible for the most harmful effects of commercial PCB mixtures. Again, some of these contaminants are highly toxic even at low concentrations. PCBs are known to be hormone disrupting chemicals, neurotoxic agents, and immunosuppressors, and they are carcinogenic to fauna in general (International Agency for Research on Cancer [IARC], 1978; Hall et al., 1992; IPCS, 1992b; De Guise et al., 1995; McKinney et al., 2004). Jauniaux and Coignoul (2001) note that there is still plenty of controversy surrounding the role of marine pollution, and more particularly PCBs, in epizootic outbreaks of Morbillivirus in marine mammals. Some researchers believe that PCBs contribute to the severity of an outbreak, while others say that the Morbillivirus is sufficiently virulent on its own and is unaffected by contaminant levels (O'Shea, 2000; Ross et al., 2000).


Tris(4-chlorophenyls) are some of the most recently discovered environmental contaminants, found at different stages of the food chain. Sources of contamination are as yet unknown, and these compounds are not regulated. In the St. Lawrence Estuary, high concentrations of these organochlorinated compounds are found in both belugas and seals (Lebeuf et al., 2001; Lebeuf et al., 2007). There is little documentation on the health hazards that tris(4-chlorophenyls) pose to marine mammals. Some studies suggest that they are hormone disrupting chemicals like the other organochlorines (Poon et al., 1997; Foster et al., 1999). One study conducted in several species of seals revealed that these compounds have high potential for biomagnification in marine mammals (Watanabe et al., 1999).

Chlorinated Paraffins (CPs)

Polychloro-n-alkanes, also known as chlorinated paraffins, are widely used in various industries as lubricants, flame retardants, plasticizers, and anti-corrosives. They are grouped by carbon chain length, the shortest (C10 – C13) of which accumulates the most easily in fish tissues, thus presenting a greater risk of toxicity (IPCS, 1996). However, medium-chain CPs are the most commonly used in Canada (Health Canada, 2004). CPs adhere readily to particles (adsorption) and are transported into water in sediments or into the atmosphere in suspended particles, short-chain CPs being the most volatile (Drouillard et al., 1998). Although CP production was halted for the most part in the early 1980s, their widespread and unrestricted use contaminated the environment at many levels (Muir et al., 1999). Chlorinated paraffins are persistent and can bioaccumulate. Analyses of St. Lawrence beluga carcasses revealed general CP contamination (both short- and medium-chain), most likely originating from local sources such as the Great Lakes or the Upper St. Lawrence River (Bennie et al., 2000; Tomy et al., 2000). Their precise origin and toxicity has yet to be determined. Short-chain chlorinated paraffins are considered toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (Canada, 1993).

Organotin compounds

OrganotinsFootnote 12 (organometallic compounds) are toxic industrial organic compounds that are particularly harmful for the environment and very slow to biodegrade once they have accumulated in sediment. In the form of tributyltin oxide (Tributyltin [TBT]), they are used in antifouling paints to prevent algae and invertebrates from adhering to boat hulls. The Pest Management Regulatory Agency has decreed that they present a risk that is “unacceptable for the marine environment.” Although prohibited in Canada and withdrawn from the market since January 1, 2003, the partial ban on this type of paint up to 2003 was insufficient to protect marine organisms (St-Louis et al., 2000). TBT is toxic to many invertebrates (whelks, marine worms, amphipods) and fish, and has been found in the tissues of marine mammals, including the beluga (Pelletier and Normandeau, 1997; St.-Louis et al., 1997; St-Louis et al., 2000). Organotins have been detected in all sediments and core samples taken from the Saguenay Fjord and the St. Lawrence Estuary and Gulf (St.-Louis et al., 1997; Viglino et al., 2004). There is evidence that contamination has spread throughout the entire St. Lawrence River Estuary system, with particularly high concentrations close to harbours (St.-Louis et al., 1997). Organotin concentrations found in stranded belugas appear to increase with the age of the animal (Yang et al., 1998; St-Louis et al., 2000). Moreover, like all organochlorines, this contaminant can be transferred from mother to foetus (St-Louis et al., 2000). Significant accumulation of organotins in whelks has been shown to act as an immunosuppressor by disrupting the endocrine system (Tester and Ellis, 1995). They are suspected of having contributed to massive mortalities in the Ganges dolphin (Kannan et al., 1997). Several studies have shown the harmful effects of TBT on immune system cells in mammals (Tanabe, 1999; Nakata et al., 2002; Nakanishi, 2007).

Organobromine compounds

OrganobrominesFootnote 13 are used as flame retardants in many manufactured products. Several polybromodiphenylether (PBDE) congeners are found in consumer goods. They are grouped into three commercial formulae: penta-, octa-, and deca-BDE. Because PBDEs were considered unacceptable risks to the environment and human health, they were withdrawn from the European and North American markets (Ward et al., 2008). Canada now bans two formulae and restricts the use of deca-BDE. PBDEs are ubiquitous in the environment, and they bioaccumulate. These compounds are also extremely persistent, sometimes more so than the organochlorines (de Boer et al., 1998). The primary sources of these contaminants in the global environment are undoubtedly waste incinerators, landfills, and effluent from municipal sewage treatment plants (Rahman et al., 2001; Ross et al., 2008). Concentrations in the environment are increasing exponentially (De Wit, 2002; Ikonomou et al., 2002). Concentrations found in belugas between 1997 and 1999 are 20 times higher than those measured in 1988 and 1990 (Lebeuf et al., 2004). In females, concentrations levelled off in 1999 and significantly decreased after 2003, whereas PBDE concentrations in males continued to increase between 2000 and 2007, albeit at a lower rate (Lebeuf et al., 2010). Organobromine compounds likely disrupt the human and animal endocrine system, especially the thyroid gland, and are potentially carcinogenic, but their mode of toxicity is still not completely understood (IPCS, 1994; Eriksson et al., 2001; Hardy, 2002; McDonald, 2002; Lebeuf et al., 2006; Ross et al., 2008). Studies in mice have shown that these compounds have a deleterious effect on behaviour and learning capacity (Branchi et al., 2002; Branchi et al., 2003).

Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs)

Perfluorinated compounds have anti-adhesive and stain-resistant properties, and are used in household products, among others. Perfluorooctane sulphonate (PFOS) is the most significant perfluorinated compound found in mammals, and the most extensively studied (Giesy and Kannan, 2001; Hansen et al., 2001; Kannan et al., 2001a; Martin et al., 2004). PFCs have the same characteristics of persistence, bioaccumulation, and biomagnification as the organochlorine and organobromine contaminants (Martin et al., 2004). Being volatile, and thanks to their resistance to biotic and abiotic degradation, they are ubiquitous in the environment, despite reductions in production (USEPA, 2002). PFOS has been added to the Virtual Elimination List under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. PFCs have many sources, including landfill sites and a vast array of consumer products. PFOS has been found in organisms at every level of the food chain (for a review, see Houde et al., 2006), including marine mammals (Kannan et al., 2001b; Martin et al., 2004) and St. Lawrence River belugas (Lebeuf, 2009). The toxicity of PFCs is not fully understood, but studies in laboratory rats indicate that they may cause liver damage and are potentially carcinogenic (Upham et al., 1998; Berthiaume and Wallace, 2002).

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons include a vast group of organic compounds, of which benzo-α-pyrene is the constituent chemical compound of most concern for the environment. Their presence in the environment is primarily due to the incomplete combustion, natural or anthropogenic, of organic matter. The St. Lawrence River belugas were particularly exposed to PAHs in effluent discharged from the Saguenay aluminum smelters into the fjord (Martel et al., 1986; Smith and Levy, 1990; Laliberté, 1991). However, aluminum smelters have greatly reduced PAH emissions since 1988, and concentrations in the Saguenay fjord sediments have decreased (Smith and Levy, 1990). Part of the beluga’s diet derives from foraging in sediments for invertebrates that accumulate PAHs in their tissues (Dalcourt et al., 1992; Ferguson and Chandler, 1998). Direct contact with the sediments may provide additional exposure to the contaminants. These non-persistent compounds degrade very rapidly, which may explain the absence or low levels of PAHs in tissue samples from St. Lawrence River belugas (Béland et al., 1992). Benzo-α-pyrene metabolites can bind with DNA to form adducts that can cause mutations and cancerous lesions. DNA adducts have been detected in St. Lawrence beluga tissues, confirming their exposure to genotoxic PAHs (Ray et al., 1991; Martineau et al., 1994). The presence in the Saguenay region of aluminum smelters that discharge substantial amounts of PAHs into the environment may be a contributing factor to the high cancer rate among belugas, but a causal link has yet to be established (Martineau et al., 2002a; Thériault et al., 2002; Hammill et al., 2003; Martineau et al., 2003). Martineau et al. (2002b) suggest a link between PAH occurrence, beluga contamination by these compounds, and the abnormally high prevalence of cancers of the digestive tract in this population. To gain a full understanding of the impact of these contaminants on the St. Lawrence River beluga, further studies are needed on the toxicity of complex assemblages of PAHs, their synergistic effect when combined with other contaminants and pathogens, and precise exposure levels to PAHs through diet and contact with sediments. There is no provision in the present carcass monitoring program to assay non-persistent contaminants such as PAHs. Tissue samples from stranded specimens are consequently of little use, and non-persistent toxic contaminants must be characterized in the beluga’s prey species and habitat. Indicator species can be useful in monitoring habitat contamination (Couillard, 2009).

Common-use pesticides

Most pesticides in use today have a low potential to bioaccumulate, and are subsequently not found in the beluga’s fatty tissues. Nevertheless, some pesticides have harmful and toxic effects. Atrazine is a herbicide commonly used in corn cultivation, which is widespread throughout most of the St. Lawrence River watershed. The fact that some of these substances do not accumulate in the beluga does not mean that they are harmless, as atrazine has a relatively long half-life in surface waters (Ulrich et al., 1994; Schottler and Eisenreich, 1997). There is little information on how these chemicals are transported throughout the drainage basin, their impact on the fluvial ecosystem, or the effects of their degradation by-products. Pesticide concentrations that exceed accepted limits for the protection of aquatic life have been detected at the mouths of several tributaries of the St. Lawrence (Giroux et al., 2006; Giroux, 2007). Nevertheless, Lake Ontario is considered the main source of the pesticides found in the St. Lawrence River (Pham et al., 2000). Even very low concentrations of atrazine can have deleterious effects on the reproductive and endocrine systems of humans and many animal species (Colborn et al., 1993).

Heavy metals

Many metals occur naturally in the environment, but their concentration and distribution can be modified by industrial processes such that they become toxic to flora and fauna. The effluent from Montreal’s sewage treatment plant, which filters 45% of all the municipal waste water in Quebec, accounts for 1% to 5% of the total heavy metal content in the St. Lawrence River, with the exception of silver (Ag), 25% of which comes from the plant (Gobeil et al., 2005). A study on the lead found in sediments from various sampling stations along the Laurentian Channel showed that the lead originated from three different sources, two natural and one linked to recent industrial pollution (Gobeil et al., 1995). The main source of mercury in the estuary is shoreline and river bottom erosion, although tributaries and atmospheric deposits also contribute (Quémerais et al., 1999). In contrast, in the Saguenay River, a major historical source of mercury contamination was a chloralkali manufacturing plant, which ceased operating in 1978 (Couillard and Lebeuf, 2007). Since then, trawl fishing has been banned in the Saguenay River due to mercury persistence in the deep sediments of the river bed. Even though certain anthropogenic inputs have diminished, toxic metals remain a source of contamination because they do not biodegrade and they concentrate in sediment. Dredging, marine traffic, and underwater sediment depression release these toxins back into circulation. Mercury, lead, and cadmium are particularly harmful, and can adversely affect immune defence efficiency by disrupting lymphocyte proliferation in mammals (Wong et al., 1992; Bernier et al., 1995; De Guise et al., 1996). The effects of chronic exposure on marine mammals are not well known, but researchers suspect they have contributed to the beluga population’s failure to recover (De Guise et al., 1996). The St. Lawrence Estuary beluga population shows mercury and lead levels 2 to 15 times higher than in Arctic populations (Fisheries and Oceans Canada [DFO], 2002).

Other Contaminants

Several other compounds found in the waters and sediments of the St. Lawrence River can potentially affect the beluga’s recovery. Effluents from municipal sewage treatment plants contain residues of detergents, pharmaceutical products, and various other contaminants that are known hormone disrupting chemicals (Aravindakshan et al., 2004b; de Montgolfier et al., 2008). The impact of these compounds on the beluga is unknown, but it appears that they have the potential to accumulate in the food chain (Aravindakshan et al., 2004a). To add to this, a number of new contaminants, such as nanoparticles and phenols, are introduced into the environment each year. Their effects on belugas or their prey is as yet unknown.

Appendix 3. Effects on non-target species and the ecosystem

Thirteen species of cetaceans, eight species of toothed whales (Odontoceti), and five species of baleen whales (Mysticeti) frequent the St. Lawrence (Table 1). Studies conducted under the current recovery strategy (for example, impact assessments of anthropogenic activity) and the proposed mitigation measures to deal with identified threats (for example, restrictions on whale watching activities) will certainly have spin-off effects that are liable to be beneficial to a wide variety of organisms in the St. Lawrence Estuary, including cetaceans, invertebrates, and fish. As stated by the St. Lawrence Beluga Recovery Team concerning the actions proposed in the 1995 recovery plan, “not only will beluga benefit from these actions, but also the ecosystem as a whole and human health in particular” (DFO and World Wildlife Fund [WWF], 1995).


Table 1. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) status assessments of marine mammal species in the St. Lawrence
Common Name
Latin NameDate of last status assessmentLast COSEWIC designationStatus under the List of Wildlife Species at Risk
Northern bottlenose whale
(Scotian Shelf)
Hyperoodon ampullatusNovember 2002EndangeredEndangered
North Atlantic right whaleEubalaena glacialisMay 2003EndangeredEndangered
(St. Lawrence Estuary)
Delphinapterus leucasMay 2004ThreatenedThreatened
Sperm whalePhyseter nacrocephalusApril 1996Not at riskNot listed
Atlantic white-sided dolphinLagenorhynchus acutusApril 1991Not at riskNot listed
White-beaked dolphinLagenorhynchus albirostrisApril 1998Not at riskNot listed
Killer whale
(Northwest Atlantic/Eastern Arctic)
November 2008Special concernNot listed
Long-finned pilot whaleGlobicephala melasApril 1994Not at riskNot listed
Harbour porpoise
(Northwest Atlantic)
Phocoena phocoenaApril 2006Special concernNot listed
Common minke whale
North Atlantic subspecies
Balaenoptera acutorostrataApril 2006Not at riskNot listed
Humpback whale
(North Atlantic)
Megaptera novaeangliaeMay 2003Not at riskNot listed
Blue whale
Balaenoptera musculusMay 2002EndangeredEndangered
Fin whale
Balaenoptera physalusMay 2005Special concernSpecial concern

On the other hand, should the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga population increase, this could have potentially negative effects at certain levels of the food chain, particularly for prey species and potential competitors such as seals. However, the current population objective is 30% less than the historical population. For the time being, it is impossible to determine whether the environmental conditions are sufficient to support a beluga population seven times larger than what exists now.

Appendix 4. References

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Addison, R. F. and W. T. Stobo. 1993. Organochlorine residue concentrations and burdens in grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) blubber during the first year of life. Journal of Zoology. 230 (3):443-450.

Aguilar, A., A. Borrell and P. J. H. Reijnders. 2002. Geographical and temporal variation in levels of organochlorine contaminants in marine mammals. Marine Environmental Research. 53:425-452.

Anon. 1928. Quebec will war on porpoises. Organize reduction plants to use carcasses. The Canadian Fisherman. 15 (11):24.

Aravindakshan, J., M. Gregory, D. J. Marcogliese, M. Fournier and D. G. Cyr. 2004a. Consumption of Xenoestrogen-Contaminated Fish during Lactation Alters Adult Male Reproductive Function. Toxicological Science. 81 (1):179-189.

Aravindakshan, J., V. Paquet, M. Gregory, J. Dufresne, M. Fournier, D. J. Marcogliese and D. G. Cyr. 2004b. Consequences of Xenoestrogen Exposure on Male Reproductive Function in Spottail Shiners (Notropis hudsonius). Toxicological Science. 78 (1):156-165.

Auger, C. and R. Quenneville. 2001. Plan d'urgences environnementales, Parc marin du Saguenay-Saint-Laurent. Parcs Canada. 43p.

Barber, D. G., E. Saczuk and P. R. Richard. 2001. Examination of beluga-habitat relationships through the use of telemetry and a geographic information system. Arctic. 54 (3):305-316.

Barrett, T. 1999. Morbillivirus infections, with special emphasis on morbillivirus of carnivores. Veterinary Microbiology. 69:3-13.

Bédard, C. and R. Michaud. 1995. Étude des activités d’observation en mer des cétacés de l’estuaire maritime du Saint-Laurent. Rapport final. Groupe de recherche et d’éducation sur le milieu marin. Tadoussac.

Bédard, C. and Y. Simard. 2006. Automated detection of white whale (Delphinapterus leucas) vocalizations in St. Lawrence estuary and occurrence pattern. Canadian Acoustics - Acoustique Canadienne. 34 (3):84-85.

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Footnote 12

Tributyltin (TBT), dibutyltin (DBT), and monobutyltin (MBT).

Return to footnote 12

Footnote 13

Polybromodiphenylether (PBDE), tetrabromobisphenol-A (TBBP-A), hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD).

Return to footnote 13

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