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

2. Recovery

2.1 Population and distribution objectives

In the St. Lawrence Beluga Recovery Plan published in 1995, the recovery goal was: “to bring population numbers and conditions to a state at which natural events and human activity will not threaten the survival of the St. Lawrence beluga whale population…it appears that reducing pollution and disturbance should ensure that humans and belugas will continue sharing the St. Lawrence Estuary”(Fisheries and Oceans Canada [DFO] and World Wildlife Fund [WWF], 1995). The goal of the current recovery strategy remains to restore the beluga population to a level where its survival is no longer threatened by natural and anthropogenic disturbances.

The historical population is estimated at 10 100 individuals (DFO, 2005b). The long-term population objective of the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga is 7070 individuals, or 70% of its historical population, which corresponds to the precautionary approach adopted by DFO for managing various marine resources (DFO, 2006; Hammill and Stenson, 2007). However, this population could be considered no longer at risk before this objective is reached (DFO, 2005b). At the current 1% annual growth rate, this long term objective could be achieved by 2100. If limiting factors for population growth are identified and eliminated, the growth rate could attain a theoretical maximum of approximately 4%, in which case the long-term population objective would be achieved by 2050 (Figure 8). This recovery strategy also aims for a minimum 2% population growth rate. In order to have an intermediate population objective that could maintain genetic diversity, an objective of 1000 mature individuals was also determined. According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessment criteria, achievement of this intermediate objective could result in “at less risk” status. As the population increases, it is hoped that the distribution area of the St. Lawrence beluga will also increase to a minimum level corresponding to 70% of the historical distribution area (DFO, 2005b).


Figure 8. Time to meet the population objective of 7070 individuals at the current growth rate of approximately 1% and at the theoretical maximum rate of 4%

Growth rate graph (see long description below).

Description of Figure 8

Time to meet the population objective of 7070 individuals at the current growth rate of approximately 1% and at the theoretical maximum rate of 4% (M. Hammill, DFO, unpublished data). The figure is a line graph showing the size of the population through time according to two growth rates (1 % and 4 %). With a 4 % growth rate, the population objective of 7070 would be reached around 2050 and with a growth rate of 1 %, it would be reached around 2100.

2.2 Recovery objectives

To achieve the population and distribution objectives of this recovery strategy, six recovery objectives have been identified:

  1. Reduce contaminants in belugas, their prey, and their habitat that could prevent population recovery;
  2. Reduce anthropogenic disturbances;
  3. Ensure adequate and accessible food supply;
  4. Mitigate the effects of other threats to population recovery; 
  5. Protect beluga habitat throughout the entire distribution range;
  6. Ensure regular monitoring of the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga population.

Strategies to reach these recovery objectives are put forward in the following table.

2.3 Strategies and measures to achieve recovery objectives

2.3.1 Recovery planning

 

Table 3. Recovery Planning Table for the St. Lawrence beluga. (Objective 1. Reduce contaminants in belugas, their prey, and their habitat that could prevent population recovery)
PriorityThreatRecovery StrategiesMeasures
CriticalContaminantsStudy the effects of contaminants on belugas, their key prey species, and sentinel species.
  • Study the effects of contaminants on survival, health, reproduction, and growth.
  • Evaluate the risks of the potential impacts of different contaminant groups on belugas and the factors that influence these risks.
CriticalContaminantsDevelop new regulations or fully apply existing regulations to control the discharge of toxic pollutants into the environment, especially new contaminants.
  • Improve Canadian and Quebec regulations to reduce toxic chemical discharges into the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence Basin, particularly by reviewing or setting toxicity thresholds for pollutants.
  • Develop mechanisms to monitor the impacts of regulation.
  • Reduce the number and scope of accidental and illegal discharges of pollutants.
CriticalContaminantsReduce emissions and discharges of all types of pollutants at the source.
  • Reduce discharges of pollutants from waste storage sites, landfills, sewage treatment plants, industries, etc.
NecessaryContaminantsMonitor contaminant sources and concentrations in the tissues of belugas and their key prey species.
  • Identify the main sources of contamination, and determine how contaminants spread through the beluga population and its environment, and how belugas and their prey are exposed to different contaminant groups.
  • Study the movement and spread of contaminants in the tissues of belugas, key prey species, and sentinel species, particularly emerging contaminants, and publish results.
NecessaryContaminantsContinue cleanup of contaminated terrestrial and aquatic sites in the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence Basin.
  • Identify priority contaminated sites and use environmentally sensitive decontamination techniques to clean up identified sites.
NecessaryContaminantsContinue coordinating pollution reduction efforts, in collaboration with the International Joint Commission.
  • Initiate actions with Quebec, Ontario, and the United States to coordinate efforts to reduce pollution in the Great Lakes and the entire St. Lawrence River basin.

 

Table 3 continued. Recovery Planning Table for the St. Lawrence beluga. (Objective 2. Reduce anthropogenic disturbances)
PriorityThreatRecovery StrategiesMeasures
CriticalDisturbanceDetermine the short- and long-term effects of chronic and acute forms of disturbance.
  • Carry out impact studies of disturbances created by marine traffic, MLOA, aircraft, and development projects in- and off-shore in areas used by belugas.
  • Based on disturbance impact studies, determine management measures to reduce disturbance.
CriticalDisturbanceStudy the impacts of noise pollution on belugas.
  • Identify main noise sources of various frequencies, monitor beluga exposure, and study the impacts of noise on the beluga’s health and behaviour.
  • Based on noise impact studies, determine management measures to reduce noise pollution.
CriticalDisturbanceReduce anthropogenic disturbances in high-use areas.
  • Reduce anthropogenic noise in the St. Lawrence Estuary.
  • Implement protection measures in problematic marine traffic lanes.
  • Reduce the speed of marine traffic.
  • Reduce the number of incidents (e.g., direct approaches, harassment).
  • Develop best practice guidelines for chance meetings with belugas.
NecessaryDisturbanceProtect belugas against anthropogenic disturbances throughout their entire distribution area.
  • Review, adopt, and enforce the Marine Mammals Regulations as well as the Marine Activities in the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park Regulations to better protect belugas from disturbance, particularly by enforcing a 400 m “no-boat” zone around belugas throughout the area.
  • Improve marine life observation activities (MLOA) monitoring patrols during the tourist season in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park (SSLMP) and elsewhere in the Estuary.
NecessaryDisturbanceImplement the education strategy for species at risk developed by the SSLMP and extend it to cover the entire beluga distribution range.
  • Identify target groups for awareness campaigns, and develop and implement a communications strategy.
  • Improve training for captains, kayaking guides, and nature guides in order to reduce disturbances, and make training mandatory.
  • Publicize conservation actions and provide educational activities to local residents.
  • Set up a recognition program for sea excursion companies that adopt best practices.
  • Define specific best practice guidelines for each type of user navigating the St. Lawrence Estuary.
NecessaryDisturbanceImprove the decision-making process for granting research permits and permits for other activities requiring approaches within 400 m.
  • Establish the rules and a decision-making committee, and set up a single-window system, in collaboration with all the responsible authorities, to evaluate the relevance, methods, and issuance of permits for projects involving belugas or their critical habitat.

 

Table 3 continued. Recovery Planning Table for the St. Lawrence beluga. (Objective 3. Ensure adequate and accessible food supply)
PriorityThreatRecovery StrategiesMeasures
CriticalFood supplyProtect spawning and rearing sites and migration corridors of key prey species.
  • Strengthen measures to protect important sites for key prey species.
  • Prohibit trawl nets from the Upper St. Lawrence Estuary and the Saguenay River.
  • Maintain the moratorium on forage species.
NecessaryFood supplyContinue research on the diet and feeding habits of belugas.
  • Study diet habits and feeding strategies.
  • Study prey availability and factors that influence their quantity and quality.
  • Based on studies of prey availability, determine management measures to protect the beluga’s food resources.
BeneficialFood supplyPrevent new fisheries with the potential to significantly impact belugas and their prey.
  • Consider the beluga’s food requirements when assessing new fisheries.

 

Table 3 continued. Recovery Planning Table for the St. Lawrence beluga. (Objective 4. Mitigate the effects of other threats to population recovery)
PriorityThreatRecovery StrategiesMeasures
CriticalOther habitat degradationsDevelop and implement adequate protective measures for all inshore and offshore projects that could have an impact within the beluga distribution area.
  • Include protective measures in inshore and offshore projects.
  • Conduct an environmental impact assessment for all oil and gas exploration and development projects in the St. Lawrence Gulf.
CriticalAllMaintain and improve the carcass monitoring program, with a focus on determining causes of death.
  • Improve the reliability and accessibility of the carcass monitoring program database (since 1983) and improve data processing and integration methods.
  • Regularly publish results.
  • Based on studies of causes of death, determine management measures to reduce sources of mortality.
NecessaryAlgal blooms, spills, and diseasePrepare emergency plans for belugas in case of spills, harmful algal blooms, and epizootic diseases
  • Prepare or update emergency plans for the St. Lawrence Estuary.
NecessaryEntanglementReduce the impact of ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.
  • Ensure the continued operation of the Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network.
  • Ensure monitoring of incidents involving belugas (ship strikes, wounds, incidental catches, harassment).
BeneficialToxic spillsEncourage navigators and harbour masters to respect the regulations for pollutant discharges.
  • Carry out an awareness and education campaign to promote respect for the regulations on pollutant discharges.
  • Monitor the number of incidents.
BeneficialAlgal blooms, spills, and diseaseDetect and prevent spills, algal blooms, and epizootic diseases.
  • Develop tools to detect and prevent spills, algal blooms, and epizootic diseases.
BeneficialCollisionsReduce ship strikes, in particular with tourist vessels and pleasure craft.
  • Carry out awareness campaigns targeting captains of tourist vessels and pleasure craft.
BeneficialNew threatsExamine other potential obstacles to recovery.
  • If new threats are identified, initiate additional research and management strategies to reduce the impact.

 

Table 3 continued. Recovery Planning Table for the St. Lawrence beluga. (Objective 5. Protect beluga habitat in all its distribution range)
PriorityThreatRecovery StrategiesMeasures
CriticalAllIncrease our understanding of the seasonal distribution and potential habitats of belugas.
  • Identify beluga high-use areas according to season, including the characteristics that make them favourable to belugas and the vital functions they support, and identify potential new habitats should the distribution area expand as well as threats to these habitats.
CriticalAllProtect beluga habitat using diverse legal tools.
  • Set up Marine Protected Areas in beluga territory, such as the St. Lawrence Estuary Marine Protected Area Project and the Manicouagan Aquatic Reserve.
  • Enact zoning regulations in the SSLMP to protect high-use areas.
  • Study the feasibility of extending the boundaries of the SSLMP, in accordance with the management plan of the marine park, to include a more significant portion of the belugas’ summering area.

 

Table 3 continued. Recovery Planning Table for the St. Lawrence beluga. (Objective 6. Ensure regular monitoring of the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga population)
PriorityThreatRecovery StrategiesMeasures
CriticalAllMonitor the St. Lawrence beluga population.
  • Continue to conduct population surveys, at least every three years.
  • Monitor juvenile recruitment rates and causes of juvenile mortality.
  • Continue the population monitoring program (distribution, size, structure, dynamics, social organization, and genetics).

Level of priority: Beneficial, or useful for recovery; Necessary, or having great potential for recovery; Critical, or indispensable for recovery.


2.3.2 Narrative to support the recovery planning table

Each of the first three objectives targets a specific threat to the recovery of the St. Lawrence beluga: contaminants, anthropogenic disturbances, and prey availability. Many toxic chemicals discharged by past, current, and future industrial processes and modern consumer products can hinder the recovery of the St. Lawrence belugas by interfering with their vital functions or by inducing potentially fatal pathologies. A reduction in contaminant levels is therefore a priority objective to ensure the recovery of this population. Anthropogenic disturbances, on the other hand, stem primarily from the high volume of commercial and recreational marine traffic along the St. Lawrence Estuary, including observation activities at sea. There is a need to propose approaches to reduce the risk related to anthropogenic disturbances from the different types of vessels or noise associated with human activities. Many fish stocks in the St. Lawrence Estuary have been reduced in recent decades. Despite their varied diet, belugas may no longer be able to find prey in sufficient quantity or quality to ensure population recovery in the Estuary. Another objective of the recovery strategy is therefore to ensure adequate and accessible food supply.

Other threats to the recovery of the St. Lawrence beluga have been included under the fourth objective: “Mitigate the consequences of other threats to population recovery.” It is critical that approaches be proposed to mitigate or eliminate all threats, and that vigilance be maintained to identify new threats. It is equally critical to deepen our understanding of habitat use in order to protect important areas in the St. Lawrence. Belugas occupy various habitats, depending on the season, and we know little about what are the important features of the habitat, or about the functions they support.

Finally, despite the ban on hunting, the growth rate of the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga population remains very low. Continued monitoring of the population status, particularly the juvenile mortality rate, is required to determine the effectiveness of any recovery measures. Monitoring is also essential to identify and better understand the most serious threats to this population and to find the means to mitigate or eliminate them.

2.4 Critical habitat

The Species at Risk Act (SARA) stipulates that a recovery strategy must include “an identification of the species’ critical habitat, to the extent possible, based on the best available information, […], and examples of activities that are likely to result in its destruction” (paragraph 41(1)(c)). This identification is designed to facilitate the protection of the critical habitat of the St. Lawrence beluga from human activities that can destroy it and compromise the survival and recovery of the species.

Critical habitat is defined in the Species at Risk Act (2002) section 2(1) as:

“…the habitat that is necessary for the survival or recovery of a listed wildlife species and that is identified as the species’ critical habitat in a recovery strategy or in an action plan for the species.” [s. 2(1)]

SARA defines habitat for aquatic species at risk as:

         

“… spawning grounds and nursery, rearing, food supply, migration and any other areas on which aquatic species depend directly or indirectly in order to carry out their life processes, or areas where aquatic species formerly occurred and have the potential to be reintroduced.” [s. 2(1)]

For the St. Lawrence beluga, critical habitat is identified to the extent possible, using the best available information. The critical habitat identified in this recovery strategy is necessary for the survival and recovery of the species, but, due to inadequate information, it is not possible to know whether it is sufficient to achieve the population and distribution objectives for the species. In particular, knowledge on critical habitat features and their attributes which support vital functions is insufficient. The schedule of studies outlines the research required to obtain better knowledge on the critical habitat and to identify additional critical habitat necessary to support the population and distribution objectives for the species.


2.4.1 Information and methods used to identify critical habitat

In order to identify the critical habitat of the St. Lawrence beluga, all the available information on the beluga’s habitat requirements, its prey, seasonal distribution, and the use and characteristics of its habitat has been reviewed (Mosnier et al., 2009). The information was gathered from academic, governmental, and non-governmental sources. This literature review was used to produce a science advisory report on the identification of critical habitat for the St. Lawrence beluga that was peer-reviewed and published (DFO, 2009a). The identification of critical habitat presented in this strategy was also reviewed and accepted by the St. Lawrence beluga Recovery Team.

To date, the knowledge of the beluga’s habitat is largely based on the current summer use. Historical use and current winter habitat use are less well known. Present knowledge suggests a spatial segregation of belugas based on sex and age, typical of this species in the summer. The Upper Estuary where are concentrated the females with their calves and juveniles is likely an important habitat for calving and rearing of the young. The reasons why this segregation occurs and the habitat’s attributes that make it critical to the survival of females, calves and juveniles are not clearly defined. The identification of the St. Lawrence beluga critical habitat is based on the summer distribution range of females and their calves because this habitat supports the function of calving and rearing of the young and thus juvenile survival. Based on the hypothesis of juveniles having difficulties to survive that was put forward to explain the absence of recovery since the hunting ban, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans considers this habitat critical to the survival and recovery of the St. Lawrence beluga.


Figure 9. Critical habitat of the St. Lawrence beluga.

Map showing the critical habitat of the St. Lawrence beluga (see long description below).

Description of Figure 9

Critical habitat of the St. Lawrence beluga. The map shows the identified critical habitat and water depths in the Estuary. Critical habitat extends from the Battures aux Loups Marins to the southern portion of the Estuary, off Saint-Simon. It excludes the deeper portion of the head of the Laurentian channel. It includes the lower reaches of the Saguenay River, from the mouth of the river to Saint-Louis Island. Inset: the location of the sector in Quebec. The map includes coordinates of the critical habitat polygon.


2.4.2 Description of critical habitat

Critical habitat has been identified using the area of occupancy approach and corresponds to the summer distribution of groups made up of adults and new-born calves and juveniles, i.e. the Upper Estuary, from the Battures aux Loups Marins to the Saguenay River and the southern portion of the Lower Estuary (Figure 9). Note that permanent anthropogenic features (e.g., ports, marinas) that are present within the areas delineated are specifically excluded from critical habitat.

Oceanographic processes leading to mineral-rich and productive cold water upwelling offer a suitable environment and favour continous beluga presence. The distribution pattern of the beluga throughout its summering ground probably reflects the different ecological and behavioral needs of the different social groups. In summer, i.e. from June to October, belugas congregate in groups according to sex and age. In the St. Lawrence, groups made up of adult females accompanied by their new-born calves and juveniles concentrate in the Upper Estuary, while groups of adults only tend to gather in the northern section of the Lower Estuary (Figure 6). Females are very strongly attached to their summer habitat, characterized by an abundance of prey and shallower waters (Table 4), to which they return every year. The identified critical habitat (Figure 9) clearly provides support for calving and the rearing of the young, a fundamental issue in the survival and recovery of this threatened species (DFO, 2009a; Mosnier et al., 2009). The rearing of the young requires access to quality food sources and an environment that is conducive to communication. The shallower waters preferred by females, new-born calves, and juveniles may offer protection from predators and ensure access to adequate food resources for smaller belugas with limited diving capabilities.

Although the physical, chemical and biological characteristics that make these habitats critical for the survival and recovery of the beluga are not well known, the fact that females and their calves return so faithfully to sites in the Upper Estuary, the Saguenay River, and the southern portion of the Lower Estuary supports the critical importance of these areas (DFO, 2009a).

 

Table 4. Essential functions, features and attributes of critical habitat for the St. Lawrence beluga.
LocationFunctionsFeaturesAttributes
Upper Estuary (Battures aux Loups Marins down to the Saguenay River)
Saguenay River (Sainte-Marguerite Bay to mouth)
Lower Estuary (southern portion)
Calving, suckling, feeding, rearing of the young, socialization, seasonal migrationFood AvailabilityQuality and quantity of prey (e.g. capelin, Atlantic herring, sandlance, rainbow smelt)
Upper Estuary (Battures aux Loups Marins down to the Saguenay River)
Saguenay River (Sainte-Marguerite Bay to mouth)
Lower Estuary (southern portion)
Calving, suckling, feeding, rearing of the young, socialization, seasonal migrationOceanographic processes leading to mineral-rich and highly productive cold water upwelling 
Upper Estuary (Battures aux Loups Marins down to the Saguenay River)
Saguenay River (Sainte-Marguerite Bay to mouth)
Lower Estuary (southern portion)
Calving, suckling, feeding, rearing of the young, socialization, seasonal migrationShallow watersDepth of <100 m.
Upper Estuary (Battures aux Loups Marins down to the Saguenay River)
Saguenay River (Sainte-Marguerite Bay to mouth)
Lower Estuary (southern portion)
Calving, suckling, feeding, rearing of the young, socialization, seasonal migrationSuitable acoustic environmentAs an indication only:
<120 dB continuous sound
<160 dB pulse sound


2.4.3 Schedule of studies to identify critical habitat

Paragraph 41(1) c.1 of SARA calls for “a schedule of studies to identify critical habitat, where available information is inadequate.” This recovery strategy includes the identification of critical habitat to the extent possible based on the best available information. Further studies are needed to fully identify the St. Lawrence beluga critical habitat, meaning the critical habitat needed to support the population and distribution objectives. As few studies have been conducted on the critical habitat used by the beluga outside the area between Kamouraska and Rimouski, it is impossible at this time to determine the contribution of these other areas to the critical habitat. Moreover, the beluga’s preferred habitat outside the summer season is largely unknown. More information is also needed on the attributes of the identified critical habitat in order to make sure that they are of adequate quality and quantity to support vital functions of the species. In particular, a better understanding of the attributes is needed to understand the requirements of the beluga towards its acoustic environement and the various biophysical caracteristics of the habitat (underwater topography, currents, water temperature, salinity, oxygen, pH, nutrients, freshwater discharge and turbidity) that can influence presence of belugas or their prey.

The schedule of studies presented in Table 5 describes the research activities required to identify all critical habitat of the St. Lawrence beluga in accordance with the population and distribution objectives.

 

Table 5. Schedule of studies
Description of activityResult/justificationDeadline
Better define the beluga’s summering grounds and their characteristics upstream of Kamouraska and La Malbaie, and downstream of Rimouski and Forestville.Identify the critical habitat of the beluga outside the area usually studied. Ensure critical habitat is identified to support all vital functions and to fully meet population and distribution objectives.2016
Identify the areas used by the beluga outside the summer season.Identify the critical habitat of the beluga outside the summer season. Ensure critical habitat is identified to support all vital functions and to fully meet population and distribution objectives.2016
Define the attributes of the critical habitat.Relate attributes to the vital functions they support.2016


2.4.4 Examples of activities likely to destroy critical habitat

The Government of Canada Species at Risk Act Policies, (2011 [draft]) describe destruction of critical habitat in the following manner:

“Destruction of critical habitat would result if any part of the critical habitat were degraded, either permanently or temporarily, such that it would not serve its function when needed by the species. Destruction may result from single or multiple activities at one point in time or from cumulative effects of one or more activities over time.”

It is important to mention that any human activity must be assessed on a case-by-case basis and mitigation measures have to be applied when available and efficient. The activities described in Table 6 are not exhaustive and have been guided by the “Threats” described in section 1.5 of this recovery strategy. The absence of a specific human activity does not preclude, or fetter the department’s ability to regulate it pursuant to SARA. Furthermore, the inclusion of an activity does not result in its automatic prohibition because it is destruction of critical habitat that is prohibited. Activities generating high levels of noise and those that could destroy the habitat attributes likely to impact significantly prey abundance can result in the destruction of critical habitat.

Excessive noise pollution can prevent belugas from carrying out these vital functions, and would therefore constitute the destruction of critical habitat. Although the threshold level of acoustic degradation that would destroy the St. Lawrence beluga’s critical habitat has not yet been established, the scientific literature (Richardson et al., 1990; Richardson et al., 1995) and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS, 2003) have established the threshold level of disturbance for marine mammals at 120 dB from continuous sources and 160 dB from pulse sources. The threshold for physical damage is set at 180 dB. These thresholds are given as an indication only; they can vary according to several factors such as sound frequency or oceanographic conditions.

A marked decrease in the availability of sufficient quantity and quality of beluga prey within the critical habitat would compromise that habitat’s function as a food source. Underwater topography, currents, water temperature, salinity, oxygen, pH, nutrients, water regime or freshwater discharge, and turbidity can potentially affect the beluga’s prey. Barriers to fish migration can also affect their abundance and their availability.

Table 6. Examples of activities likely to destroy critical habitat
ActivityPathway of effectFunction affectedAttribute affected
  • Commercial or military sonar
  • Construction
  • Dredging
Activities generating excessive noise pollution (frequency and intensity)

Rearing of the young

Socialization

Feeding

Suitable acoustic environment (e.g. <120 dB continuous sound, <160 dB pulse sound)
  • Construction
  • Dredging
Disruption or destruction of attributes likely to impact the presence of preyFeedingAbundance, availability and quality of prey (e.g. capelin, Atlantic herring, sandlance, rainbow smelt)

2.5 Knowledge gaps

Although many threats have been identified, only a few, such as contaminants, have been closely studied, while others remain hypothetical. It is therefore imperative to conduct further research on the population status and limiting factors for population growth. The following is a partial list of the main research priorities to fully implement this recovery strategy:

Biology and ecology

  • Population dynamics (particularly juvenile survival rate)
  • Distribution and seasonal behaviour (especially outside summer)
  • Social structure and reproduction strategies
  • Diet and energy requirements

Habitat

  • Key prey species distribution, abundance, habitat, biology, and threats

Threats

  • The complete spectrum of anthropogenic environmental contaminants to which belugas and their prey are exposed, in space and over time, with particular attention to the identification of sources of environmental contaminants, in particular emerging contaminants and their effects on belugas, their prey, and their habitat
  • Short- and long-term effects of disturbance due to noise levels and physical proximity to human activity
  • Anthropogenic sources of pathogens
  • Frequency and intensity of ship strikes and entanglement
  • Threat mitigation measures
  • Other obstacles to recovery
  • The influence of climate change on the impacts of threats to recovery

As mentioned in the previous section, many research and monitoring programs are currently gathering more information on threats to the recovery of St. Lawrence belugas, its population status, and the impact of current or proposed management strategies. It is important to continue this research while focusing on actual, potential, and anticipated threats to the St. Lawrence beluga population. In addition, a full evaluation of the impacts of these threats on recovery will require a better understanding of the population dynamics, in particular the juvenile recruitment rate and seasonal habitat use. The research activities required to identify critical habitat are described in section 2.4.3 Schedule of studies to identify critical habitat.

2.6 Measuring progress

The performance indicators presented below provide a way to define and measure progress toward achieving the population and distribution objectives. Specific progress towards implementing the recovery strategy will be measured against indicators outlined in subsequent action plans.

  • Increase in population size
  • Increase in the number of mature individuals to 1000 adult belugas
  • Increase in the distribution area
  • Increase in the yearly recruitment rate
  • Steady state calving percentage
  • Decrease in the mortality rate of juveniles

2.7 Statement on action plans

A recovery action plan for the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga population will be completed within 5 years, by 2016.