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Quebec Bulletin
June - July 2015/Volume 18/Number 3

Boaters and Beluga Whales: Keep Your Distance!

Female belugas with their calves.

Boaters who travelling Saint-Jean-Port-Joli and Saint Simon, in the heart of the beluga whale's habitat in the St. Lawrence, frequently observe this marine mammal, in particular females with their calves. However, disturbance caused by humans is one of the main threats to the recovery of this threatened population.
Here is why: the busy recreational boating season coincides with the birth of calves (what we call newborn belugas). The period from May to October is crucial for the survival of young belugas because that is when females give birth, and feed and raise their young. Although these white whales are accustomed to sharing their habitat with all kinds of boats with oars or motors, it is crucial to their survival that boaters adhere to good practices for marine mammal observation so that the belugas are not disturbed during the summer.

If you see one or more beluga whales:

Beluga near a boat.
If you approach inadvertently to within 400 metres of a beluga whale, STOP or keep the boat stationary and let the animal pass by.
  1. Slow down, avoiding sudden changes in speed or direction;
  2. Do not approach beluga whales. Keep at least 400 metres away;
  3. Should your boat come closer than 400 m to a beluga whale, stop or keep the boat stationary and let the animal pass;
  4. Do not surround the belugas whales when other boats are present;  
  5. Limit your observation time to 30 minutes. This will minimize the cumulative impact of many vessels and give other people the opportunity to see the beluga whales;
  6. Do not swim or dive with beluga whales or feed them.

If you witness any activity or behaviour that is disturbing the belugas, please contact the Fisheries and Oceans Canada Poaching Alert Network on the Internet or by phone at 1-800-463-9057. By doing so you will help protect this marine mammal. Marine species are a priceless part of our collective heritage which we all are responsible for protecting.

Scientists in a boat.
Researchers Véronique Lesage and Jack Lawson, two Fisheries and Oceans Canada experts, patrolling the St. Lawrence and gathering information on marine mammals.

Did you know that females give birth every 3 years between June and August after a gestation period of 14½ months? The mother nurses her calf for two years. Females and young separate from the males in summer. Only the adult beluga whale is white; calves are born brown or dark grey and gradually lighten in colour to become totally white between six and eight years of age. Adult belugas can weigh 1,900 kg and reach a length of 2.6 to 4.5 m. Their longevity is believed to be 75 years.

The St. Lawrence belugas have been the subject of many scientific studies by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and its partners to determine the causes for their declining numbers, and in particular to evaluate how disturbances and noise affect their behaviour. Surveys have been carried out regularly since the 1980s to estimate the population size and to increase our knowledge about intensive use areas. In the 1980s, the population was estimated at about 1000 individuals. A slow decline has been observed since the early 2000s, with an estimated population of about 900 individuals in 2012.

The population is protected under the Species at Risk Act. For more information, please visit the Beluga Whale Species Profile on the Species at Risk Public Registry.

When a marine mammal is struggling, you can alert the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network by calling 1‑877‑722‑5346.

Interested in learning more? Read the following article:
Reduction in Risk of Collisions with Whales Deemed Encouraging

Andréanne Demers
Ecosystems Management

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