Species Profile

Beluga Whale Eastern High Arctic - Baffin Bay population

Scientific Name: Delphinapterus leucas
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
Range: Nunavut, Arctic Ocean
Last COSEWIC Assessment: May 2004
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
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 | 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

In summer, belugas of the Canadian eastern high arctic are found in the waters of the central archipeligo: Barrow Strait, Prince Regent Inlet, Peel Sound and Jones Sound. Large numbers, up to 5000, frequent the estuaries of Somerset Island. Belugas migrate through Lancaster Sound in the fall to over-winter in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait, off the West Greenland coast.

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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 between 7 and 9 years of age, while females reach sexual maturity between 4 and 7 years of age. Belugas breed about every three years, usually around the month of May. Females give birth to one calf (of about 1.5 m) between April and early August. The gestation period is of 14.5 months. Belugas are at the top of the food chain. The species feeds on almost 50 different invertebrate and fish species including squid, tube worms, capelin, and Greenland and Atlantic Cod.

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Threats

Over-exploitation is the main cause of the significant declines in Beluga populations, including the decline observed in the population that overwinters off the west coast of Greenland. While other factors such as habitat alteration and degradation, acoustic disturbance from vessel traffic, and environmental contamination may pose additional threats to belugas in other areas, the eastern high arctic-Baffin Bay population does not appear to suffer from other significant threats at this time.

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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. In 1989, a joint Canada-Greenland agreement was signed to conserve the belugas and narwhals in the Eastern High Arctic/Baffin Bay area.

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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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.

10 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

COSEWIC Assessments

Response Statements

Orders

  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessment Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act - Vol. 139, No. 24 (2005)

    Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, hereby acknowledges receipt of the assessments done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (see footnote a) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) with respect to the species set out in the annexed Schedule.
  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (2012)

    His Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, acknowledges receipt, on the making of this Order, of the assessments done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) with respect to the species set out in the annexed schedule.
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (2013)

    This Order adds seven aquatic species to Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and reclassifies two species on Schedule 1 of SARA (Schedule 1). This Order also amends Schedule 1 by striking out one species previously listed as a single designatable unit and adding two new designatable units of the same species in its place. One designatable unit of a terrestrial species, currently also listed as part of a broader designatable unit, is struck out to eliminate duplication. These amendments are being made on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment with advice from the other competent minister, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. A related Order under section 76 of SARA will exempt activities authorized under the Fisheries Act from the prohibitions of SARA for a period of one year for one of the species being added to Schedule 1 (Westslope Cutthroat Trout).
  • Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act (2006)

    Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, pursuant to section 27 of the Species at Risk Act, hereby makes the annexed Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act.

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 on the Addition of Three Populations of Belugas to the SARA List- Cumberland Sound Belugas, Eastern High Arctic-Baffin Bay Belugas, Western Hudson Bay Belugas (2004)

    Your opinion is being sought to assist the government of Canada in making an informed decision on whether to add the Cumberland Sound population, Eastern High Arctic-Baffin Bay population and Western Hudson Bay population of Belugas 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 populations 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 to Schedule 1 of SARA (Schedule 1 identifies which species are legally protected under SARA).