For Earth Month each year, our Members support special conservation projects on Canada’s most threatened animals. In 2017, kids across the country raised funds to protect orcas, sea birds and many other animals though a special Bring Back the Wild campaign that supported the creation of new protected areas off the coast of British Columbia. One year later, we’re very happy to report the Southern Strait of Georgia and the Scott Islands are under consideration for protected area status.
This year, with the help of our partners GREMM and Ocean Wise, we’re turning our attention to Quebec to figure out how shipping traffic and other underwater noise are impacting belugas.
The noise around St. Lawrence belugas
Although these “white whales” are primarily an Arctic species, a small group of geographically isolated belugas has adapted to life in the St. Lawrence. Before 1885 there were an estimated 10,000 of them living in the St. Lawrence Estuary and Gulf, but this has since shrunk to about 900 individuals. Commercial whaling, which has been banned since 1979, drastically reduced this population, and there has been no recovery since.
Currently, there are many other factors that are contributing to the decline of this incredible species. Climate change, habitat degradation, pollution, and a lack of food resources are some of the most studied, but the dramatic increase of underwater noise from shipping traffic and other human activities is also a major area of concern.
The big question we’re trying to answer is: what kind of impact is underwater noise having on mother-to-calf communication, and what can we do to help this species survive?
Belugas and other cetaceans use sound to see and communicate in their underwater world. Water transmits sound much more efficiently than air and over vastly greater distances, aggravating the impact of underwater noise. Noise pollution from human activities drowns out their communication and echolocation signals. This makes it more difficult for these whales to see and avoid danger, find food, locate mates, and communicate with their young.
Imagine, for example, you are in the middle of a busy city and a thick curtain of fog surrounds you, impairing your ability to see and hear. The fog is so pervasive that crossing the street safely, finding a restaurant, and even helping your kids on to a bus would be a challenge. It is this kind of difficult, dangerous and disorienting environment that belugas face every day in the St. Lawrence.
That’s why we are working with scientists to figure out how belugas are reacting to an increasingly noisy environment. Using hydrophones and aerial drone footage, the researchers are observing different pods of belugas to determine how their behavior changes when there’s a lot of vessel traffic, and how the contact calls produced by newborn beluga whales and by their mothers may be masked by the noise.
The results of this research will be used to influence rules around shipping traffic in the St. Lawrence and other beluga habitats across Canada.
During Earth Month, when your kids fundraise for a Bring Back the Wild animal, they’re also helping endangered St. Lawrence belugas.
For every dollar raised during the month of April, a donation* will also be made to help fund GREMM and Ocean Wise research on endangered St. Lawrence belugas.
In collaboration with:
Generously supported by: