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COSEWIC Assessment and Update Status Report on the Beluga Whale in Canada

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COSEWIC
Assessment Summary

Assessment Summary – May 2004 (Eastern Hudson Bay Population)

Common name:
Beluga Whale

Scientific name:
Delphinapterus Leucas

Status:
Endangered

Reason for designation:
The population was reduced by at least 50% and continues to decline. Overhunting continues throughout its summer and migratory range. Mathematical models predict that it will likely disappear under present hunting levels in less than 10 to 15 years. Concerns have been expressed about habitat degradation of estuaries by hydroelectric projects, and by small vessel traffic disturbance.

Occurrence:
Nunavut, Quebec, Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean

Status history:
Designated Threatened in April 1988. Status re-examined and designated as Endangered in May 2004. Last assessment based on an update status report.

 

Assessment Summary – May 2004 (Ungava Bay Population)

Common name:
Beluga whale

Scientific name:
Delphinapterus leucas

Status:
Endangered

Reason for designation:
All signs indicate that the population residing in Ungava Bay is very low and may be extirpated. However, it is difficult to definitely conclude that they have been extirpated because beluga from other populations may visit Ungava Bay. Hunting caused the population decline and continues in Ungava Bay, posing a threat to any remaining beluga.

Occurrence:
Quebec, Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean

Status history:
Designated Endangered in April 1988. Status re-examined and confirmed in May 2004. Last assessment based on an update status report.

 

Assessment Summary – May 2004 (Cumberland Sound Population)

Common name:
Beluga whale

Scientific name: Delphinapterus leucas

Status:
Threatened

Reason for designation:
Numbers of belugas using Cumberland sound have declined by about 1500 individuals between the 1920s and the present. The population decline is believed to have been caused by hunting by the Hudson Bay Company into the 1940s and by the Inuit until 1979. Hunting has been regulated since the 1980s. Current quotas (41 in 2003) appear to be sustainable. Concerns have been raised about increased small vessel traffic and the associated noise of outboard motors, as well as fishery removals of Greenland halibut, a food of belugas.

Occurrence:
Nunavut, Arctic Ocean

Status history:
The Southeast Baffin Island-Cumberland Sound population was designated Endangered in April 1990. In May 2004, the structure of the population was redefined and named "Cumberland Sound population", and the Southeast Baffin Island animals were included as part of the Western Hudson Bay population. Status re-examined and designated as Threatened in May 2004. Last assessment based on an update status report.

 

Assessment Summary – May 2004 (St. Lawrence Estuary Population)

Common name:
Beluga whale

Scientific name:
Delphinapterus leucas

Status:
Threatened

Reason for designation:
The population was severely reduced by hunting, which continued until 1979. High contaminant loads may have also contributed to the population decline. Aerial surveys since 1973 suggest that the decline has ceased, but do not provide clear evidence of a significant increase in numbers. Levels of many contaminants remain high in beluga tissues. The whales and their habitat are threatened by contaminants, vessel traffic, and industrialization of the St. Lawrence watershed.

Occurrence:
Quebec, Atlantic Ocean

Status history:
Designated Endangered in April 1983 and in April 1997. Status re-examined and designated as Threatened in May 2004. Last assessment based on an update status report.

 

Assessment Summary – May 2004 (Eastern High Arctic/Baffin Bay Population)

Common name:
Beluga whale

Scientific name:
Delphinapterus leucas

Status:
Special Concern

Reason for designation:
The population overwinters in Baffin Bay and west Greenland and may consist of two distinct populations. It is heavily hunted in west Greenland. However, most of the population winters in Baffin Bay and the High Arctic where it is not hunted. Hunting pressure in Canadian waters is low in summer.

Occurrence:
Nunavut, Arctic Ocean

Status history: Designated Special Concern in April 1992 and May 2004. Last assessment based on an update status report.

 

Assessment Summary – May 2004 (Western Hudson Bay Population)

Common name:
Beluga whale

Scientific name:
Delphinapterus leucas

Status:
Special Concern

Reason for designation:
The population appears to be relatively abundant, although it has not been surveyed for 15 years and may consist of more than one population. The population is subject to substantial removals by hunting in parts of its range, and is potentially threatened by shipping and hydroelectric dams.

Occurrence:
Manitoba, Nunavut, Ontario, Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean

Status history:
Designated Not at Risk in April 1993. The population was redefined in May 2004 to include those Southeast Baffin Island animals outside Cumberland Sound, previously considered part of the "Southeast Baffin Island-Cumberland Sound population," which is now called "Cumberland Sound population". Status re-examined and designated as Special Concern in May 2004. Last assessment based on an update status report.

 

Assessment Summary – May 2004 (Eastern Beaufort Sea Population)

Common name:
Beluga whale

Scientific name:
Delphinapterus leucas

Status:
Not at Risk

Reason for designation:
This population is currently large and hunted at sustainable levels under an international agreement.

Occurrence:
Northwest Territories, Arctic Ocean

Status history:
Designated Not at Risk in April 1985 and in May 2004. Last assessment based on an update status report.