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Species at Risk

Beluga (St. Lawrence population)

Delphinapterus leucas

Why protect the St .Lawrence Beluga?

All species, from the tiny phytoplankton to the enormous blue whale, are linked. The disappearance of one of them will have an impact on all the others. We should not forget that we humans are also part of this great chain and that, as a result, the extinction of certain species will have long-term effects not only on our environment, but also on our economy and our culture.

Belugas of the Saguenay St. Lawrence estuary population
Belugas are easily recognizable by their white skin.
© Parks Canada / Saguenay St. Lawrence Marine Park Image Gallery / J.Audet / MB-2-21

Of all the populations of this species, the St. Lawrence beluga lives the farthest south on the planet. Its presence contributes in a strong way to the ecological diversity of the estuary. Also, since the arrival of the first explorers, the beluga has been intimately associated with this section of the river, where explorers came, among other things, to hunt them. Since the 1980s, the belugas have not been hunted, but their presence, as well as that of some other species of sea mammals, has contributed to the attraction of the region as a tourist destination of choice.

In the past, the St. Lawrence beluga’s situation has raised passions and inspired numerous acts of conservation. It has become a symbol of the fragility of nature and the importance of acting to protect the environment. Let’s continue to act to offer the St. Lawrence beluga a future worthy of what it represents.

What is Parks Canada doing to protect the St. Lawrence Beluga?

Recovery methods

At the beginning of the 1990s, several stakeholders met to create a recovery plan for the St. Lawrence beluga. Since the publication of this plan in 1995, several actions have been taken to aid the beluga population. The single most important was the creation of the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park. This Park, jointly managed by Parks Canada and Parcs Québec, enables us to protect a part of the ecosystem in which the St. Lawrence beluga spends its whole life.

The creation of the Marine observation activities regulations is also one of the most important measures in place to encourage the recovery of the St. Lawrence beluga population. These regulations, written in collaboration with the people who conduct activities in the waters of the Marine Park, provide guidelines about observing marine mammals. The main goal of such regulations is to reduce the intrusion caused by human activities. Since the implementation of these regulations in 2002, it has been prohibited to get closer than 400 metres to a beluga or blue whale, no matter what type of boat or the nautical activity being practised.

Research and observation

Several research and follow-up projects have been done in the past and are being done today. Parks Canada is participating in these projects, in collaboration with other departments and non-governmental organizations involved in the Marine Park area. Most research projects on the belugas focus on watching the development of the size of the population, its composition, the use of the habitat and the effects of human activities.

Raising public awareness

In the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park, there are several opportunities for visitors who would like to learn more about St. Lawrence belugas. Parks Canada and its partners offer visitors interpretation centres, panels installed on the piers and river trails, personalized interpretation and theatrical presentations. Three sites for observing marine mammals from the shore are also accessible. At the sites, in addition to being able to observe the natural habits of these animals, visitors can also benefit from naturalists who can answer all their questions.

Collaborating with partners

For the purposes of research, species recovery and interpretation, the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marin Park works in collaboration with various government and non-governmental partners. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment Canada, Parcs Québec, the Maurice Lamontagne Institute, the group for research and education on marine mammals (GREMM), Explos-Nature, ZIP committees (ZIP is short for “zone d'intervention prioritaire,” or area of prime concern), and several others are among those involved in research about and interpretation of this subject at the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park.