Threatened whale species given strict habitat protections

By Lauren McDonald

©Tom Coats

The Canadian federal government is moving to support beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucus) populations in the St. Lawrence Estuary. Pollution and human disturbances are thought to contribute to ongoing population declines.

The St. Lawrence Estuary beluga whale population was listed as a federally threatened species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2005. The listing cited reduced food resources, habitat degradation, and increased human disturbances as motivation for enhanced protections.

Despite the increased protection provided by listing under SARA, beluga whale populations in the St. Lawrence Estuary have continued to decline. As of 2012, fewer than 900 individuals existed in the wild, a decrease of more than 33 percent since 2001.

The proposed increase in protections, known as a Critical Habitat Order, would prevent development from occurring within the species’ breeding grounds without authorization by the federal government. Currently a total of ten species, including the beluga whale, have been given Critical Habitat Orders by the Canadian government.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans believes that the Critical Habitat Order will not only protect beluga whales from human disturbances, but will also conserve the broader estuary habitat for other species.

Lauren McDonald is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Government Affairs & Partnership program.

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