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Species at Risk: The Beluga Whale

Beluga whales are a loveable, fascinating species that are among the most easily recognizable marine creatures in the world, and it isn’t hard to see why: these charismatic whales are quite unique!

Belugas can turn their head in all directions and, unlike most whales, they don’t have a dorsal fin, which is believed to be an adaptation to the cold waters in which they inhabit. Belugas eat almost 50 different invertebrate and fish species, including octopus, squid, crabs, clams, halibut, and cod. They travel in pods of between 2 and 10 whales, and seek the presence of ice-free waters and concentrations of prey fish, which takes them to different habitats in different seasons.

There are seven beluga whale populations in Canada. The St. Lawrence population is listed as threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act. This population inhabits the Atlantic Ocean, and faces serious threats from things like habitat disturbance, high pollutant levels, and industrialization of the St. Lawrence watershed. Like other species listed under SARA, this small population of belugas needs the protective power of the Species at Risk Act to survive.

So, what does it mean for these belugas to be listed under SARA? As a result of provisions for all species listed under the act, the government is legally required to draft and implement a species recovery plan. The St. Lawrence population of belugas has had a recovery strategy in place for over 15 years, with the most recent version having been released earlier this year. If the recovery strategy is implemented properly, scientists estimate that we’ll see a 4% annual increase in population size over the next half decade, bringing the population back up to a healthy size.

Without this recovery plan, there would be no protective or restorative measures to help these belugas survive. The threats to the beluga’s habitat are serious and growing in numbers. Having a strong federal Species at Risk Act helps to ensure that someone is always looking out for threatened species so that they’ll always have a safe home in Canada.

Want to help ensure that species like the beluga whale continue to benefit from our federal Species at Risk Act? Send a letter now to let the minister know that a strong SARA is important to you!

Photo by Brian J. Skerry, courtesy of National Geographic