December 01, 2014 17:51 ET

St. Lawrence Beluga Population Shows Worrying Decline

OTTAWA, ON--(Marketwired - December 01, 2014) - The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has recommended that the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga population be uplisted to "Endangered" -- only a slight step away from extinct in the wild -- highlighting Canada's failure to protect or recover this population, according to WWF. 

COSEWIC, Canada's independent national advisory body on species at risk, based the new assessment on recent population and habitat surveys that show that St. Lawrence belugas have declined to under 900 individuals since the early 2000s.

"Canada is failing to ensure that the St. Lawrence beluga population recovers, in spite of the supposed protection it receives from the Species At Risk Act," said David Miller, President and CEO of WWF Canada. "To prevent belugas from moving even closer to extinction, we need to take immediate action to remove all major threats, including TransCanada's proposed oil export terminal at Cacouna," he added.

The Cacouna terminal is part of TransCanada's Energy East pipeline, and is located in an area that has been identified as critical for beluga mothers and their calves. While facing strong opposition from environmental groups, local tourism operators and citizens, the project could go ahead if TransCanada meets a set of new conditions imposed at the end of November 2014.

In addition to industrial development, COSEWIC also says a handful of other threats, including pollution, toxic algal blooms, climate change and noise disturbance could be leading to "worrying declines" and "unexplained deaths of calves."

Further exacerbating the problem is the Federal Minister's failure to confirm or refute the critical habitat identified in Canada's Beluga Recovery Strategy, released over 2 years ago.

"Canada's Beluga Recovery Strategy was completed in 2012 and is already 2 years behind schedule to protect critical habitat. All of the pieces are in place -- what we need now is the political will to get and keep the process on the needed track," said David Miller.

To address widespread concerns surrounding the proposed TransCanada port at Cacouna, WWF is planning to convene a world-class international scientific advisory panel that will review all available information and release key findings. This will ensure full public transparency and accountabilities, and inform key decision-makers on projected impacts in the context of the current Recovery Strategy, as framed by Canada's Species At Risk Act.

WWF is also supporting the Quebec-based Groupe de recherche et d'éducation sur les mammifères marins (GREMM) to study the distribution and habitat use outside its well-documented summer range to identify potential critical wintering habitat.

"The St. Lawrence beluga is a flagship species for Quebec. If we collectively fail to protect this small and declining population, we'll have failed science and our fellow citizens. Science should guide us more than ever to keep it alive and healthy -- now and for future generations," said Marie-Claude Lemieux, WWF's Director for Quebec.

Contact Information