Review of the Effectiveness of Recovery Measures for St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga

Context/Background

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Table of Contents

1. Context/Background

In November 2016, Canada's Oceans Protection Plan (OPP) was announced, which outlined several new initiatives aimed at addressing the threats to marine mammals in Canadian waters, including the key threats of contaminants, prey availability, and underwater noise. Under the OPP, the Government of Canada will also take action to address the cumulative effects of shipping on marine mammals, and work with partners to implement a real-time whale detection system to alert mariners of the presence of whales. As part of OPP, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) was tasked with launching a science-based review of the effectiveness of the current management and recovery actions for three at-risk whale populations in Canada: the Southern Resident Killer Whale (Orcinus orca), the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis), and the St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga (Delphinapterus leucas). The review seeks to identify areas for immediate improvement in recovery efforts, and priorities for new or enhanced actions. DFO adopted a phased approach for this review. This document represents the first phase in that process, and is focused on the St. Lawrence Estuary (SLE) beluga population.

Up until recently the St. Lawrence Estuary (SLE) beluga was considered to be a Threatened population by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) (COSEWIC 2004), and is currently listed as such under SARA. Population size was estimated at around 1,100 individuals at the time the Recovery Strategy was posted in 2012 (DFO 2012).  However, an abnormally elevated number of newborn beluga (calves) reported dead in 2012 triggered a full review of population status, including threats (DFO 2014). This review indicated that the population was stable or increasing at a slow rate (0.13% per year) until the early 2000s, but then declined at a rate of approximately 1% per year, to an estimated 900 individuals in 2012 (Mosnier et al. 2015). Based on the information from the recent review (DFO 2014) on population size and trends, population dynamics, and threats, the COSEWIC reclassified the population as Endangered in 2014 (COSEWIC 2014), a status that is in the process of being echoed under SARA.

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