Species Profile

Beluga Whale Cumberland Sound population

Scientific Name: Delphinapterus leucas
Other/Previous Names: Beluga Whale (Southeast Baffin Island-Cumberland Sound population)
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
COSEWIC Range: Nunavut, Arctic Ocean
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: November 2020
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: A2bd+4bd; C1+2a(ii)
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This is a small population with a restricted range, heavily reduced by commercial whaling in the past. While whales from this population continue to be harvested for subsistence, recent models suggest that reported removals are not sustainable. There are also concerns related to fishery removals of Greenland Halibut, a prey item for this population of belugas.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: The Southeast Baffin Island-Cumberland Sound population was designated Endangered in April 1990. In May 2004, the structure of the population was redefined: the Southeast Baffin Island animals (formerly part of the Southeast Baffin Island-Cumberland Sound population) were included as part of the "Western Hudson Bay population, 2004 designation". The newly defined "Cumberland Sound population" was designated Threatened in May 2004. Status re-examined and designated Endangered in November 2020.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2017-04-13

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Related Species

Beluga Whale ( Southeast Baffin Island-Cumberland Sound population ) Non-active Endangered

Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Beluga Whale

Beluga Whale Photo 1



The Beluga is a pure white, toothed whale with a prominent, rounded forehead. Its thick skin and lack of dorsal fin are believed to be adaptations to cold, icy waters. Its close relative, the Narwhal, shares these features. Compared to other eastern North American White Whales, the Beluga is medium sized. Females average 3.5 m in length, while males average 3.6 m, sometimes exceeding 4 m. Newborns are brown or slate-grey and average 1.6 m in length, 78 kg in weight. They become bluish-grey as they mature, then progressively lighten in colour, fading to white after 6 years of age. Most females mature sexually while still light grey. Males become white before maturing. Older males have a marked upward curve at the tip of their flippers.


Distribution and Population

The last surveys indicated that there were less than 400 Belugas in the South-east Baffin Island population. Recent surveys indicate that there are about 1500 Belugas in the South-east Baffin Island-Cumberland Sound population.



Belugas inhabit cold Arctic waters. They are found in different habitats in different seasons, as determined by the presence of ice free waters and concentrations of prey fish. They usually travel in pods of 2 to 10 whales, although larger pods are not uncommon. In winter they are found in leads and polynyas, while during the summer they are found in shallow bays and estuaries. Females with young are found in calm shallow waters along reef edges, close to islands and in large bays. These areas have a warm surface temperature and sand, gravel or mud bottoms that support molluscs, crustacea and bottom fish. Adults and weaned young prefer areas where the water depth varies, where surface temperatures are cold, and where there are reef bottoms of sand and gravel or deep bottoms of sandy mud and coarse material.



Males reach sexual maturity at 8 or 9 years, while females become sexually mature at from 4 to 7 years of age. Belugas breed about every three years, between April and June. A female gives birth to one calf (about 1.5 m long) in July or August, after a gestation period of 14.5 months. Research suggests a low reproductive rate. Life expectancy is about 16 years, but Belugas in their late 20s have been recorded. The species feeds on almost 50 different invertebrate and fish species including squid, tube worms, caplin, Greenland and Atlantic Cod. Belugas are at the top of the food chain.



Over-exploitation is the main cause of the dramatic declines in Beluga populations. Other factors include alterations to their habitats, such as the damming of several large rivers; and disturbances caused by ships and pleasure craft. Degradation in water quality due to dredging, shipping, industrial activity and environmental contamination has resulted in a decline in the habitat quality and food supply of this species.



Federal Protection

The Beluga Whale, Cumberland Sound population, is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

The Fisheries Act, Canada Shipping Act and Canadian Environmental Protection Act are the principal legislative instruments governing the release of toxic substances into aquatic habitats. No legislation limits marine traffic effects on marine mammals. Marine mammal regulations of the Fisheries Act prohibit deliberate harassment. The Canadian Wildlife Act authorizes the federal Minister of the Environment to create National Wildlife Areas, including marine protected areas out to the 200 mile limit. The Canada Oceans Act may also permit the creation of protected areas. Guidelines established by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans identify critical sections of the species' summer range for the information of boaters. An annual quota of forty Belugas has been in place in Cumberland Sound since 1980.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.


Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Cumberland Sound Belugas
Status Submitted for peer review/ review by F/P/T partners



PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

13 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Beluga Whale Delphinapterus leucas in Canada (6 Populations) (2021-10-12)

    The Beluga (Delphinapterus leucas), also called Beluga Whale or White Whale, is a medium-sized toothed whale. It is the only living member of its genus. The Beluga and its closest relative, the Narwhal (Monodon monoceros), are both endemic to high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere and they are broadly similar in size and body form, with a rounded head, and no dorsal fin. Belugas are born grey and gradually become paler with maturity – adults are completely white. They have a full complement of teeth in both the upper and lower jaws. Note: This COSEWIC assessment was received by the Minister on October 12, 2021.
  • COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Beluga Whale Delphinapterus leucas in Canada (2004-05-01)

    The beluga, Delphinapterus leucas, is a medium-sized toothed whale, which becomes completely white when it reaches sexual maturity around seven years of age. Adult males attain a length of 4.5 meters and females 3.5 meters. Both are similar in appearance. Young are born a dark grey and gradually become paler as they mature.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Beluga Whale, Cumberland Sound population (2004-10-22)

    Numbers of belugas using Cumberland Sound have declined by about 1500 individuals between the 1920s and 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.
  • Response Statement - Beluga Whale, Cumberland Sound population (2022-01-10)

    This is a small population with a restricted range, heavily reduced by commercial whaling in the past. While whales from this population continue to be harvested for subsistence, recent models suggest that reported removals are not sustainable. There are also concerns related to fishery removals of Greenland Halibut, a prey item for this population of belugas.


COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2004 (2004-09-16)

    2004 Annual Report to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
  • COSEWIC Annual Report 2020 to 2021 (2021-10-12)

    Over the past year COSEWIC assessed a total of 66 wildlife species, of which 4 were assigned a status of Not at Risk. Of these 66, COSEWIC re-examined the status of 41 wildlife species; of these, 80% were reassessed at the same or lower level of risk. To date and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 826 wildlife species in various risk categories including 369 Endangered, 196 Threatened, 239 Special Concern, and 22 Extirpated (i.e. no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 19 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct, 62 wildlife species have been designated as Data Deficient, and 202 have been assessed as Not at Risk.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: November 2004 (2004-11-23)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.
  • Consultation Workbook on the Addition of Three Populations of Belugas to the SARA List- Cumberland Sound Belugas, Eastern High Arctic-Baffin Bay Belugas, Western Hudson Bay Belugas (2004-11-03)

    Your opinion is being sought to assist the government of Canada in making an informed decision on whether to add the Cumberland Sound population, Eastern High Arctic-Baffin Bay population and Western Hudson Bay population of Belugas to the Schedule 1 (the List of Wildlife Species at Risk) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Your input on the impacts of adding these populations to the List is important. This workbook has been developed to give you an opportunity to provide Fisheries and Oceans Canada with your feedback, advice, and other comments regarding adding these populations to Schedule 1 of SARA (Schedule 1 identifies which species are legally protected under SARA).
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