Species Profile

Beluga Whale Eastern High Arctic - Baffin Bay population

Scientific Name: Delphinapterus leucas
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
COSEWIC Range: Nunavut, Arctic Ocean
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: November 2020
COSEWIC Status: Special Concern
COSEWIC Status Criteria:
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This population was overexploited in the past, with consequent substantial decline (probably >50%). However, harvests are now likely sustainable and the population appears to have stabilized and may be growing. There is concern that increased vessel traffic facilitated by climate change is changing the nature of the acoustic habitat of this population. The population may fit, or is close to fitting, the criteria for Threatened.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Special Concern in April 1992. Status re-examined and confirmed in May 2004 and November 2020.
SARA Status: No schedule, No Status
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd):

No schedule - No Status

Individuals of this species may be protected under Schedule 1 under another name; for more information see Schedule 1, the A-Z Species List, or if applicable, the Related Species table below.

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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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

In summer, belugas of the Canadian eastern high arctic are found in the waters of the central archipeligo: Barrow Strait, Prince Regent Inlet, Peel Sound and Jones Sound. Large numbers, up to 5000, frequent the estuaries of Somerset Island. Belugas migrate through Lancaster Sound in the fall to over-winter in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait, off the West Greenland coast.



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 between 7 and 9 years of age, while females reach sexual maturity between 4 and 7 years of age. Belugas breed about every three years, usually around the month of May. Females give birth to one calf (of about 1.5 m) between April and early August. The gestation period is of 14.5 months. Belugas are at the top of the food chain. The species feeds on almost 50 different invertebrate and fish species including squid, tube worms, capelin, and Greenland and Atlantic Cod.



Over-exploitation is the main cause of the significant declines in Beluga populations, including the decline observed in the population that overwinters off the west coast of Greenland. While other factors such as habitat alteration and degradation, acoustic disturbance from vessel traffic, and environmental contamination may pose additional threats to belugas in other areas, the eastern high arctic-Baffin Bay population does not appear to suffer from other significant threats at this time.



Federal Protection

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. In 1989, a joint Canada-Greenland agreement was signed to conserve the belugas and narwhals in the Eastern High Arctic/Baffin Bay area.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

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



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

  • 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, Eastern High Arctic - Baffin Bay population (2004-10-22)

    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.


  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessment Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act - Vol. 139, No. 24 (2005-11-15)

    Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, hereby acknowledges receipt of the assessments done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (see footnote a) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) with respect to the species set out in the annexed Schedule.
  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act(volume 146, number 14, 2012) (2012-07-04)

    His Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, acknowledges receipt, on the making of this Order, of the assessments done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) with respect to the species set out in the annexed schedule.
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 147, number 7, 2013) (2013-03-27)

    This Order adds seven aquatic species to Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and reclassifies two species on Schedule 1 of SARA (Schedule 1). This Order also amends Schedule 1 by striking out one species previously listed as a single designatable unit and adding two new designatable units of the same species in its place. One designatable unit of a terrestrial species, currently also listed as part of a broader designatable unit, is struck out to eliminate duplication. These amendments are being made on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment with advice from the other competent minister, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. A related Order under section 76 of SARA will exempt activities authorized under the Fisheries Act from the prohibitions of SARA for a period of one year for one of the species being added to Schedule 1 (Westslope Cutthroat Trout).
  • Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 140, number 18, 2006) (2006-09-06)

    Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, pursuant to section 27 of the Species at Risk Act, hereby makes the annexed Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act.

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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