Species Profile

Beluga Whale Ungava Bay population

Scientific Name: Delphinapterus leucas
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
Range: Quebec, Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean
Last COSEWIC Assessment: May 2004
Last COSEWIC Designation: Endangered
SARA Status: 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.


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

Image of Beluga Whale

Beluga Whale Photo 1

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Description

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.

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Distribution and Population

At the present time, the Ungava Bay population is estimated at being composed of less than one hundred belugas.

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Habitat

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.

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Biology

Males reach sexual maturity at 8 or 9 years, while females become sexually mature at from 4 to 7 years of age. Belugas breed about every three years, between April and June. A female gives birth to one calf (about 1.5 m long) in July or August, after a gestation period of 14.5 months. Research suggests a low reproductive rate. Life expectancy is about 16 years, but Belugas in their late 20s have been recorded. The species feeds on almost 50 different invertebrate and fish species including squid, tube worms, caplin, Greenland and Atlantic Cod. Belugas are at the top of the food chain.

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Threats

Over-exploitation is the main cause of the dramatic declines in Beluga populations. Other factors include alterations to their habitats, such as the damming of several large rivers; and disturbances caused by ships and pleasure craft. Degradation in water quality due to dredging, shipping, industrial activity and environmental contamination has resulted in a decline in the habitat quality and food supply of this species.

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Protection

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. The Ungava and Eastern Hudson Bay populations have been protected by regulations since 1949. In 1980, a limit on catches was imposed in Pangnirtung to protect the Belugas inhabiting Cumberland Sound. An agreement between Kuujjuaq and Kangirsualujjuaq to completely stop the hunting of Belugas in the Marralik River was passed in 1986. At that time, quotas were also fixed for the communities of northern Quebec that hunt Belugas.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

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

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Ungava and Eastern Hudson Bays Beluga (Delphinapterus leucas)
Status Submitted for peer review/ review by F/P/T partners

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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.

8 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Beluga Whale, Ungava Bay population (2004)

    All signs indicate that the population residing in Ungava Bay is very small and may be extirpated. However, it is difficult to definitively conclude that they have been extirpated because beluga from other populations may visit Ungava Bay. Hunting caused the population decline and continues in Ungava Bay, posing a threat to any remaining beluga.

Orders

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.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: November 2004 (2004)

    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 Regarding the Addition of the Ungava and Eastern Hudson Bays Beluga Whales to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk under the Species at Risk Act (2004)

    Your opinion is being sought to assist the government of Canada in making an informed decision on whether to add the Beluga Whale (Ungava Bay population and Eastern Hudson Bay population) 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 two populations of this species 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 of beluga whales to Schedule 1 of SARA (Schedule 1 identifies which species are legally protected under SARA).