Belugas on the Move
Belugas are one of Canada’s most iconic species. Well known for their ‘smiling’ upturned mouth and canary-esque chirps and tweets, these social mammals are often seen travelling together in pods ranging from a few individuals to hundreds of whales.
Prior to 1885, the St. Lawrence beluga population was estimated at 10,000, but commercial whaling reduced this population down to 1,000 by the late 1970s. Over the last 30 years, study of the St. Lawrence beluga population has revealed much about their summer habitat and stressors, informing more directed conservation efforts that enabled their numbers to rebound.
In recent years the St. Lawrence beluga population has experienced yet another decline. Numbering around only 900 individuals today, the St. Lawrence beluga is now listed as endangered.
And so, a larger window into the world of the beluga is ever more urgent. To help direct further conservation efforts WWF-Canada in partnership with Robert Michaud and GREMM have launched Belugas on the Move.
Launched this month, the Belugas on the Move will join the St. Lawrence belugas on their seasonal migration. Our expedition will follow these social sea mammals throughout the winter to gain insight into habitat trends and their exposure to human-imposed stressors that are believed to be influencing the continued population decline. Over the coming months, we plan to tag up to six whales and aim to map the entire St. Lawrence beluga range, to finally provide a window into the world of these 30-year old questions, and, most importantly to inform future protective measures.
Our exciting expedition has begun! With a trip offshore to place satellite transmitters on six beluga whales, I have already experienced a sight that was both magical and truly humbling.
What was initially a few glimmers of white gliding up through the waves became many. Before long, we were riding alongside a pod of up to 250 belugas who appeared to be heading south (possibly for food). My breath was completely taken by this indescribable and rare moment, coupled with the realization that such a magnificent sight may become much more far and few if conservation projects, like Belugas on the Move, are not carried out now.
Belugas on the Move is jointly carried out by the GREMM and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), supported by WWF-Canada, the Donner Canadian Foundation and Canada Steamship Lines (CSL).