Beluga Whale Eastern High Arctic - Baffin Bay population
Scientific Name: Delphinapterus leucas
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
Range: Nunavut, Arctic Ocean
Last COSEWIC Assessment: May 2004
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: No schedule, No Status
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 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.
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
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.
9 record(s) found.
- COSEWIC Status Reports (1 record(s) found.)
- Response Statements (1 record(s) found.)
- Orders (4 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Annual Reports (1 record(s) found.)
- Consultation Documents (2 record(s) found.)
COSEWIC Status Reports
COSEWIC Annual Reports
COSEWIC Annual Report - 2004 (2004)2004 Annual Report to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
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