A beluga whale swims with her calf at the Vancouver Aquarium.

A beluga whale swims with her calf at the Vancouver Aquarium. The beluga population in the St Lawrence continues to decline even though hunting was banned in the 1970’s. Where once there were tens of thousands, the population now numbers fewer than 900.
Photo Credit: Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Beluga deaths continue to mystify, worry

Share

For several years marine researchers have been concerned about high mortality of beluga whales in the St Lawrence.

That concern has risen again after analysis of the dead whales found last year.

Of the 14 carcasses found last year, three were pregnant females, and six were of newborn calves. One was identified as hermaphrodite.

In 2014, there were 11 carcasses found, six of which were young or newborn, and in 2013, there were 17 dead beluga, four of which were babies.

Necropsies performed on the dead whales showed the adult females were either pregnant or had just given birth.  The babies found showed no signs of disease or trauma leading to the conclusion they had died of starvation or dehydration after being separated from their mothers.

Since 1983 all dead whales have had necropsies performed at the University of Montreal’s faculty of veterinary medicine in St-Hyacinthe.

This baby beluga is only a few months old, and one of several which have died in the past few years.   Necropsies performed at the Faculty of Veterinary medicine of the University of Montreal at Saint Hyacinthe.
This baby beluga is only a few months old, and one of several which have died in the past few years. Necropsies performed at the Faculty of Veterinary medicine of the University of Montreal at Saint Hyacinthe. © Thomas Gerbet- Radio-Canada

Robert Michaud, who heads the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM) at the school says the deaths are very worrisome. He says the beluga population is declining at the rate of one to 1.5 percent every year, even though the mammals have no predators.

He thinks there are a number of factors contributing to the decline. One is the ongoing presence of contaminants in the water. One such chemical is PBDE, a flame retardant once widely used in fabrics, for clothing, drapes, carpets, furniture etc.  In beluga it affects the thyroid gland, important to help in expulsion of the foetus during birth..

Other hormone mimicking chemicals are belieived to have contributed to the hermaphrodite beluga found dead in 2015. Hermaphrodism is normally very rare, says one researcher. Only six cases of marine mammals have been found, three of them were beluga from the Saint Lawrence.

Another problem is the reduction of herring prey fish in the region, especially in spring. This may make the females weaker when they need strength for birthing.

Global warming means less ice in the river. The beluga take refuge under the ice, and without it they are more exposed to wind, and buffeting from waves and storms.

With no predators, the beluga population continues to decline. Several factors may be responsible, from chemical pollution, to shipping noise, to glabal warming affecting water temperature, ice cover, and prey fish.
With no predators, the beluga population continues to decline. Several factors may be responsible, from chemical pollution, to shipping and pleasure boat noise, to global warming which affects water temperature, ice cover, and availability of prey fish. © GREMM

Another aspect is noise. All whales communicate through sound and with increased shipping, and a longer season, the noise has both a psychological and physiological affect on the whales, especially during calving. Researcher Stephane Lair of the University says that farmers know to keep things quiet when cattle are birthing, in order to avoid stressing the animals.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada estimates there are now fewer than 900 beluga in the estuary.  Fifteen years ago there were about 1000.  A century ago there were about 10,000. Beluga hunting was banned in the 1970’s to try to boost the population, but instead it continues to decline.

Both Michaud and Lair evoke the possibility that the beluga are an indicator of the health of St Lawrence, and that they could disappear.  They say it wouldn’t necessarily affect the ecosystem, but would represent a huge human failure to recognize and deal with the issues.

RCI-Aug 2013

Scientists concerned over high mortality of St Lawrence belugas

Radio-Canada: Thomas Gerbet (in French)

http://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelles/national/2016/02/08/001-belugas-quebec-morts-deces-fleuve-meres-bebes-autopsie.shtml

Fisheries and Oceans Canada: beluga

http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/science/publications/uww-msm/articles/beluga-eng.htm

Fisheries and Oceans Canada: recovery strategy 2012 (pdf)

http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/plans/rs_st_laur_beluga_0312_e.pdf

David Suzuki Foundation: beluga

http://action2.davidsuzuki.org/belugas

Times Colonist: Call of the baby beluga: documentary

http://www.timescolonist.com/entertainment/stranded-baby-beluga-s-story-casts-light-on-whales-situation-1.2160338

Call of the Baby Beluga Documentary Film  (may be geo-blocked outside of Canada)

http://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/episodes/call-of-the-baby-beluga

Share
Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Animals, Environment

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

@*@ Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.

Netiquette »

When you express your personal opinion in an online forum, you must be as courteous as if you were speaking with someone face-to-face. Insults and personal attacks will not be tolerated. To disagree with an opinion, an idea or an event is one thing, but to show disrespect for other people is quite another. Great minds don’t always think alike—and that’s precisely what makes online dialogue so interesting and valuable.

Netiquette is the set of rules of conduct governing how you should behave when communicating via the Internet. Before you post a message to a blog or forum, it’s important to read and understand these rules. Otherwise, you may be banned from posting.

  1. RCInet.ca’s online forums are not anonymous. Users must register, and give their full name and place of residence, which are displayed alongside each of their comments. RCInet.ca reserves the right not to publish comments if there is any doubt as to the identity of their author.
  2. Assuming the identity of another person with intent to mislead or cause harm is a serious infraction that may result in the offender being banned.
  3. RCInet.ca’s online forums are open to everyone, without regard to age, ethnic origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
  4. Comments that are defamatory, hateful, racist, xenophobic, sexist, or that disparage an ethnic origin, religious affiliation or age group will not be published.
  5. In online speak, writing in ALL CAPS is considered yelling, and may be interpreted as aggressive behaviour, which is unpleasant for the people reading. Any message containing one or more words in all caps (except for initialisms and acronyms) will be rejected, as will any message containing one or more words in bold, italic or underlined characters.
  6. Use of vulgar, obscene or objectionable language is prohibited. Forums are public places and your comments could offend some users. People who use inappropriate language will be banned.
  7. Mutual respect is essential among users. Insulting, threatening or harassing another user is prohibited. You can express your disagreement with an idea without attacking anyone.
  8. Exchanging arguments and opposing views is a key component of healthy debate, but it should not turn into a dialogue or private discussion between two users who address each other without regard for the other participants. Messages of this type will not be posted.
  9. Radio Canada International publishes contents in five languages. The language used in the forums has to be the same as the contents we publish. The usage of other languages, with the exception of some words, is forbidden. Messages that are off-topic will not be published.
  10. Making repetitive posts disrupts the flow of discussions and will not be tolerated.
  11. Adding images or any other type of file to comments is forbidden. Including hyperlinks to other websites is allowed, as long as they comply with netiquette. Radio Canada International  is in no way responsible for the content of such sites, however.
  12. Copying and pasting text written by someone else, even if you credit the author, is unacceptable if that text makes up the majority of your comment.
  13. Posting any type of advertising or call to action, in any form, to Radio Canada International  forums is prohibited.
  14. All comments and other types of content are moderated before publication. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to refuse any comment for publication.
  15. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to close a forum at any time, without notice.
  16. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to amend this code of conduct (netiquette) at any time, without notice.
  17. By participating in its online forums, you allow Radio Canada International to publish your comments on the web for an indefinite time. This also implies that these messages will be indexed by Internet search engines.
  18. Radio Canada International has no obligation to remove your messages from the web if one day you request it. We invite you to carefully consider your comments and the consequences of their posting.

*

One comment on “Beluga deaths continue to mystify, worry
  1. The authorities should look very closely at the 500-1500 amps @ 50-100 VDC of electrical current pumped into the seawater around the hull of most of the large cruise ships, cargo ships, tankers, etc. in the St. Lawrence Seaway for ICCP cathodic corrosion protection.

    Divers recognize the danger of shock when swimming near or touching them while doing maintenance. Larger mammals can have a greater chance of shock due to their larger x-section and surface area.

    It only takes 0.1 amps (100 milliamps) to stop a mammals heart. I am getting good correlations between maritime traffic routes and unusual mortality events in the US.

    I think they are shocking the whales