Manitoba has plan to conserve world’s biggest beluga population
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.
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.