Beluga Whale Eastern Hudson Bay population
Scientific Name: Delphinapterus leucas
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
COSEWIC Range: Nunavut, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: November 2020
COSEWIC Status: Threatened
COSEWIC Status Criteria: A1bd
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: The population has declined substantially (about 50%) since 1974 (i.e., over the last 2 generations). The population is still hunted for subsistence, and is at low numbers (ca. 2,600 mature individuals). While harvests have been reduced and the decline in abundance seems to have been halted, current harvest levels are a concern as the primary factor limiting population growth. Noise from increased vessel traffic, particularly in the overwintering areas of Hudson Strait and the Labrador Sea, related in part to declines in ice cover due to climate change, is also a concern.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Threatened in April 1988. Status re-examined and designated Endangered in May 2004. Status re-examined and designated Threatened in November 2020.
SARA Status: No schedule, No Status
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd):
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.
Image of Beluga Whale
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
In 1985, there were between 1124 and 1904 belugas left in eastern Hudson Bay.
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 between 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.
The Fisheries Act, Canada Shipping Act and Canadian Environmental Protection Act are 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. The Ungava and Eastern Hudson Bay populations have been protected by regulations since 1949. In 1980, a limit on catches was imposed in Pangnirtung to protect the Belugas inhabiting Cumberland Sound. An agreement between Kuujjuaq and Kangirsualujjuaq to completely stop the hunting of Belugas in the Marralik River was passed in 1986. At that time, quotas were also fixed for the communities of northern Quebec that hunt Belugas.
Provincial and Territorial Protection
Status of Recovery Planning
Recovery Strategies :
Name Recovery Strategy for the Ungava and Eastern Hudson Bays Beluga (Delphinapterus leucas)
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.
11 record(s) found.
- COSEWIC Status Reports (2 record(s) found.)
- Response Statements (2 record(s) found.)
- Orders (3 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Annual Reports (2 record(s) found.)
- Consultation Documents (2 record(s) found.)
COSEWIC Status Reports
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.