Man­i­toba has plan to con­serve world’s big­gest bel­uga pop­u­la­tion

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA -

Man­i­toba has re­leased a plan to pre­serve the world's largest pop­u­la­tion of bel­u­gas while num­bers of the white whales with the char­ac­ter­is­tic smi­ley face are still strong.

“We have a healthy pop­u­la­tion, but the en­vi­ron­ment is chang­ing,” said Man­i­toba Con­ser­va­tion Min­is­ter Tom Ne­vak­shon­off. “It's a rare op­por­tu­nity when you can take some­thing that's not in dis­tress and fo­cus on it now to pre­serve that rather than do­ing dam­age con­trol.”

Nearly 60,000 bel­u­gas mi­grate along the Hud­son Bay coast. In the sum­mer, whales stop where the Churchill, Nelson and Seal rivers flow into the bay to feed, give birth and nur­ture their young.

“When bel­u­gas are in those es­tu­ar­ies, you're not just see­ing a bel­uga in there spo­rad­i­cally,” said Chris De­bicki of The Pew Char­i­ta­ble Trusts' Oceans North Canada.

Oceans North Canada, an en­vi­ron­men­tal group that worked with the prov­ince on the plan. “You're lit­er­ally see­ing hun­dreds and some­times thou­sands of bel­u­gas at the same time.”

The plan, which Ne­vak­shon­off refers to as a “dis­cus­sion doc­u­ment,” in­volves pro­tect­ing sec­tions of the coast­line as well as the out­flow area of the Seal River.

It also re­quires help from the fed­eral govern­ment.

Man­i­toba is ask­ing Ottawa to ex­tend the Arc­tic Wa­ters Pol­lu­tion Pro­tec­tion Act - which would for­bid the dis­charge of ship­ping waste - to cover the wa­ters off the mouths of the three rivers. It also wants the Lib­eral govern­ment to con­sider the area for its Na­tional Marine Con­ser­va­tion Area pro­gram.

Ne­vak­shon­off said he'll be dis­cussing those ideas with fed­eral Fish­eries and Oceans Min­is­ter Hunter Tootoo next week.

Al­though the Nelson and Churchill rivers have been heav­ily af­fected by hy­dro de­vel­op­ment, De­bicki said the bel­u­gas seem to have adapted well. They also seem to be co-ex­ist­ing with cur­rent ship­ping lev­els out of the port of Churchill, he said.

How­ever, the plan does note that fu­ture noise from ships and port ac­tiv­i­ties could af­fect the whales, es­pe­cially if that traf­fic in­creases. Tourist boat traf­fic could also be a fu­ture con­cern.

CP PHOTO

A bel­uga whale shows its tail in the St.Lawrence River near Tadous­sac, Que., on July 24, 2006. Man­i­toba has re­leased a plan to pre­serve the world's largest pop­u­la­tion of bel­u­gas while num­bers of the white whales with the char­ac­ter­is­tic smi­ley face are still strong.

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