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The “Ocean Canary”, a rare visitor in La Baie!

beluga-1Regular beluga observation in Baie des Ha! Ha! started about sixty years ago. Since the start of population monitoring and surveys,during the 1980s, the total population has been constant with about 1,000 individuals, which is less than 20% of their numbers in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

In 1979, due to their significant drop in numbers and shrinking habitat, beluga hunting in the St. Lawrence River was formally banned.

In 2016, the St. Lawrence beluga was officially placed on the Government of Canada’s endangered species list. The decision was made upon recommendation from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Beluga numbers had continued to fall despite being added to the threatened species list in 2005. Every summer, 15-20 belugas are found dead along the shores of the St. Lawrence River. However, the worsening of the species’ official status does not provide further protection. Recently, the federal government defined an essential habitat in the St. Lawrence Estuary, a move that could help to better safeguard the species.beluga-2

Recovery of the St. Lawrence beluga: A slow process

Initially, the St. Lawrence beluga population was an estimated 500 individuals. But the improvement of counting methods has led researchers to agree: those numbers were biased, there were about the same number of belugas as there are today, or some 1,000 individuals. Belugas live all year long in the waters that flow out of the heart of North America. Despite concerted depollution efforts since the 1980s, contamination of the species continues to be a serious issue. The combined effects of pollution and other threats, such as noise and habitat deterioration, are still unknown. A lot of work remains to be done in an effort to better understand and protect the species!beluga3

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