Beluga Whales in the St. Lawrence


Importance of Beluga Whales

Beluga whales are an important part of the ecosystem in the St. Lawrence River, as they are predators which contribute to the food chain. These whales feed on species such as fish, crustaceans, and worms. They often eat fish such as salmon, cod, whitefish, sole, and shrimp. They are a key component in managing the fish populations and making sure their is no overpopulation. Since they are the top predator, they are vital in maintaing the flow of the the food chain and maintaing the levels of fish populations.

Beluga Whale Map of Quebec

Locations along the St. Lawrence River and their distribution during different times of the year.

Impacts From Humans

  • high rates of cancers
  • toxic chemicals
  • overhunting
  • habitat degradation
  • water quality
  • shipping and tourism industry

Since 1885, the beluga whale population in the St. Lawrence River has decreased from 10 000 to less than 1000. This drastic reduction was the result of multiple issues, including high rates of cancers from toxic chemicals, over hunting and the various industries that use this water source. Leftover carcasses found throughout the river have been thorough examined to determine the main causes to these deaths. In 2012, 16 carcasses were found along the shorelines of the St. Lawrence River (Venne). Firstly, it is believed that the cause to these toxic chemicals and high rates of cancers are due to four aluminum smelters. In previous years, these companies have been know to dump their harmful chemicals into the Saguenay River. Since the St. Lawrence River is just downstream from that River, it is believed that those chemicals being released are flowing directly into the river, effecting the beluga whales. Although this dumping practice does not occur today, the past actions have caused harmful chemicals to settle along the sediments and rocks in the river floor. Unfortunately, it is very common for beluga whales to feed on these remains and deposits. In past years, this population has been a commodity for those commercial hunters. Companies see these animals as valuable due to their skin and oil. Between 1868 and 1960, the total amount that was caught for commercial purposes was 14 500 (Government of Canada). This enormous number is higher than any other catch amount for the beluga whale locations in Canada. In addition to this, the shipping and tourism industry have also played a major role in diminishing the whale population. Boats that travel through these waters for distribution or sight-seeing purposes are detrimental to these species. The toxins and oil that are released into the waters are also degrading their habitat. Even some commercial fishing boats have been the cause for some beluga whales being tangled in nets and propellers or being injured from collisions with boats. Also, since beluga whales are top predators, they bioaccumulate other toxins that have been ingested by the fish that they eat. This leads to more damaging effects on the health of these species.

Beluga Whales in The St Lawrence River

Used By the Inuit

  • used in a sustainable way
  • provides food, oil, fat, leather, material, and tools (Government of Canada)

What are we doing to help?

  • Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) identified the beluga whales as endangered
  • federal government has announced that they are developing a new species at risk legislation
  • Marine Mammal Regulations banned commercial hunting in 1979
  • federal government create the Saguenay - St. Lawrence Marine Park to protect marine habitat
  • World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada and Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DOF) developed a recovery plan in 1995 (Government of Canada)
    • diminishing the amount of toxic chemicals released
    • decrease the disruption of habitat
    • prepare emergency action plans
    • health monitoring of species
    • constant research for new information and ideas


Beluga Whales Exerpt from Government of Canada by xokatherine5