Species Profile

Harbour Seal Lacs des Loups Marins subspecies

Scientific Name: Phoca vitulina mellonae
Other/Previous Names: Harbour Seal (Lac des Loups Marins landlocked population)
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
COSEWIC Range: Quebec
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: April 2018
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: D1
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This land-locked subspecies is endemic to Québec and may number less than 100 individuals. It inhabits a small series of lakes in northern Québec and is the only sub-species to live entirely in fresh water. Climate change could cause pervasive changes to habitat and could increase predation pressure on the population. The population was and is being harvested by the Cree at low, but unknown, rates. Eventual hydro-electric development and mining exploration outside of the identified critical habitat could potentially alter the habitat.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Special Concern in April 1996. Status re-examined and designated Endangered in November 2007 and April 2018.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
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.

Go to advanced search

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

Image of Harbour Seal Lacs des Loups Marins subspecies

Harbour Seal Lacs des Loups Marins subspecies Photo 1

Top

Description

The Harbour Seal Lac des Loups Marins subspecies is a small, dark subspecies of the Harbour Seal. The curvature of its lower jaw is enlarged. Generally, the subspecies is identified not by its appearance, but by where it lives. The Lacs des Loups Marins seals reside in freshwater year round, which only one other population of Harbour Seals does (the other occurs in British Columbia). The result is that the species is geographically isolated from oceanic Harbour Seals.

Top

Distribution and Population

The subspecies occurs in Lacs des Loups Marins (Upper and Lower Seal Lakes), an area situated 160 km east of Hudson Bay on the Ungava peninsula of northern Quebec. The seals have also been reported in surrounding lakes and rivers, but four individuals surveyed in the fall of 1995 remained within the immediate vicinity of Lower Seals Lake throughout the entire survey period. The population has been comprised of 100 to 600 animals since 1957. The most recent estimate is 100 animals. It is believed that the Lacs des Loups Marins population was established between 3000 and 8000 years ago, during a time of marine submergence.

Top

Habitat

The seals feed exclusively in freshwater, consuming mostly fish. They rely on strong currents to free some areas of ice. They also depend on ice fissures and on air pockets partly created by the shoreline's complex geometry.

Top

Biology

Pupping occurs from mid-April to mid-May. This time period is substantially in advance of other Harbour Seals occuring at a similar latitude. Pupping likely occurs in under-ice shelters. The subspecies probably winters in the larger bodies of water (Lac des Loups Marins, Lac Bourdel and Petit Lac des Loups Marins). It may disperse to outlying smaller bodies of water when the ice melts.

Top

Threats

Some populations of Harbour Seals have been extirpated or drastically reduced by human activity. Hunting is one cause. Entanglement in fishing gear is another.

Top

Protection

Federal Protection

The Harbour Seal Lacs des Loups Marins subspecies 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.

Marine mammal regulations pursuant to the 1867 Fisheries Act could provide the species with legal protection.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

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

Top

Documents

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 update status report on the Harbour Seal Atlantic and Eastern Arctic subspecies Phoca vitulina concolor and Lacs des Loups Marins subspecies Phoca vitulina mellonae in Canada (2008-08-28)

    The harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) is a small pinniped species with a variable pelage colouration of mottled brown, black and yellowish-white. In eastern Canada, few individuals exceed 154 cm and 100 kg, and 30 years of age. The subspecies occurring on Canada’s west coast is P. v. richardsi. Harbour seals in eastern Canada comprise two designatable units (DUs) that are different subspecies. One DU, P. v. mellonae, consists of the freshwater seals of the Lacs des Loups Marins area of Québec’s Ungava peninsula, and is endemic to Québec and Canada. The second unit, P. v. concolor, consists of the harbour seals found on the Canadian Atlantic and Arctic coasts and extends into Greenland, St. Pierre and Miquelon, and the United States.
  • COSEWIC Status Appraisal Summary on the Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina mellonae) in Canada (2018-12-31)

    This land-locked subspecies is endemic to Québec and may number less than 100 individuals. It inhabits a small series of lakes in northern Québec and is the only sub-species to live entirely in fresh water. Climate change could cause pervasive changes to habitat and could increase predation pressure on the population. The population was and is being harvested by the Cree at low, but unknown, rates. Eventual hydro-electric development and mining exploration outside of the identified critical habitat could potentially alter the habitat.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Harbour Seal Lacs des Loups Marins subspecies (2008-11-26)

    This land-locked subspecies is endemic to Québec and may number as few as 100 individuals. It inhabits a small series of lakes in northern Québec and is the only subspecies to live entirely in fresh water. The population has declined due to hunting and may still be declining.  Proposed hydro-electric development would cause pervasive changes to the habitat.
  • Response Statement - Harbour Seal Lacs des Loups Marins subspecies (2019-01-11)

    This land-locked subspecies is endemic to Québec and may number less than 100 individuals. It inhabits a small series of lakes in northern Québec and is the only sub-species to live entirely in fresh water. Climate change could cause pervasive changes to habitat and could increase predation pressure on the population. The population was and is being harvested by the Cree at low, but unknown, rates. Eventual hydro-electric development and mining exploration outside of the identified critical habitat could potentially alter the habitat.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Harbour Seal, Lacs des Loups Marins subspecies (Phoca vitulina mellonae) (2018-06-08)

    The Harbour Seal of the Lacs des Loups Marins (Phoca vitulina mellonae) is a subspecies of the Harbour Seal living exclusively in freshwater. This population is unique worldwide because its distribution range is entirely within Quebec and even there is quite limited, extending only throughout a chain of lakes and rivers in Nunavik, some 250 km east of Hudson Bay. Researchers estimate that the Lacs des Loups Marins Harbour Seal population was isolated from its original marine habitat between 3,000 and 8,000 years ago. Estimates of current population size contain a high margin of error and range from 50 and 600 individuals.

Orders

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2007 - 2008 (2008-08-28)

    2008 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
  • COSEWIC Annual Report 2017 to 2018 (2018-10-15)

    Over the past year COSEWIC assessed a total of 90 wildlife species and 11 of these were assigned a status of Not at Risk. Of these 90, COSEWIC re-examined the status of 38 wildlife species; of these, the majority (87%) were reassessed at the same or lower level of risk. To date and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 771 wildlife species in various risk categories including 338 Endangered, 183 Threatened, 228 Special Concern, and 22 Extirpated (i.e. no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 18 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct, and a total of 59 wildlife species have also been designated as Data Deficient and 197 have been assessed and assigned Not at Risk status.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation Workbook on the addition of the harbour seal (Lacs des Loups Marins subspecies) to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk (2008-12-16)

    This workbook provides background information on government requirements for adding a species to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk, and on the nature and application of SARA provisions. This general information is outlined in Part 1. Part 2 describes the current status of the harbour seal of the Lacs des Loups Marins, based on assessments provided by the COSEWIC. Part 3 (detachable) consists of a questionnaire to be filled out and returned. It is intended to assist you in articulating your concerns and advice. Click here for the Cree version of the document in PDF Click here for the Ìnuktitut version of the document in PDF

Critical Habitat Orders

Date modified: