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Species at Risk

Beluga (St. Lawrence population)

Delphinapterus leucas

What is the status of the St. Lawrence Beluga?

Group of belugas
Belugas live in groups. Some research has enabled us to observe their social habits, so we know that the females stay with the young, while the males eat, rest and play among themselves.
© Parks Canada / W. Lynch / (09) / 2002

Since May 2004, the beluga population of the St. Lawrence estuary has been considered threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). That means that its situation is considered uncertain and steps must be taken to ensure its survival. The St. Lawrence beluga is protected under the Government of Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). There are other populations of belugas elsewhere in Canada; some of those are also endangered.

Why is the St. Lawrence Beluga in danger?

For a long time, the St. Lawrence beluga was one of the favourite targets of European and North American hunters. Whaling, particularly intense between 1880 and 1950, is the main cause of the decline of the St. Lawrence population. Despite the fact that whaling stopped in 1979, several factors are still contributing to the decrease in this population and are limiting its recovery. Pollution related to the industrialization and urbanization of the St. Lawrence and Saguenay rivers and their tributaries is intricately linked to the health of this species. The beluga’s habitat still contains high concentrations of contaminants that accumulate in the fat of these animals, which the mothers then pass to their young. The small size of the population also makes it more vulnerable to genetic disorders, cancers and other diseases. Today, in addition to these problems, other factors slow the recovery of the St. Lawrence beluga. They are mostly related to the disturbance caused by shipping traffic and marine observation activities, collisions with ships and climate change.