How CNSC is supporting beluga conservation efforts

beluga underwater

A multi-year study of beluga whales in the Churchill River estuary led by Oceans North will continue this summer as part of an effort to establish a National Marine Conservation Area in the region. 

And for the second year in a row, the Churchill Northern Studies Centre’s science team will participate in collecting behavioural data about belugas and their response to whale watching vessels.

Kristin Westdal, Arctic Field Science Director with Oceans North, says this year’s efforts will focus on mother belugas and their calves. These individuals can be more challenging to study since the calves, which are smaller and darker in colour, are more difficult to see at a distance.

Why study beluga behaviour?

An April 2018 report from Oceans North encouraged the Government of Canada to immediately take steps to establish an NMCA in the Western Hudson Bay, which includes the Churchill River estuary.

Western Hudson Bay and its estuaries are world treasures.

- Oceans North Report, 2018

The Hudson Bay coastline provides critical habitat for summering populations of belugas, but climate change is a major threat to their habitat. 

Decades of research has shown a dramatic decrease in sea ice in the region, and this could have a huge impact on belugas, as they may become more vulnerable to increased ship traffic, hydroelectric development, and predation by orcas.

SUBARCTIC SCIENCE

Every day this summer, a CNSC technician and an Oceans North field scientist will head out to the water on a whale watching vessel and spend about an hour monitoring and recording the whales’ behaviour.

Joni Reimer, CNSC’s Research Manager, was part of the data collection crew in 2021, and she’s looking forward to getting out on the water with the whales again this summer.

“I love being out on the water,” she says, adding that although she often saw ‘hundreds and hundreds’ of belugas in a day, the calves were her favourite.

“They were such a special sight to see. They don’t have the grace and poise that the older belugas have.”

And while Reimer is no stranger to collecting data, this is one of the first times she can remember seeing such a clear link between a study she does work for and its application.

“It’s not just collecting data,” she says. “It makes me feel like I’m a part of it.”

Immerse yourself in the wonderful world of beluga whales and learn more about the importance of protecting their habitat by registering for Belugas in the Bay

Learn more about all of Oceans North’s critical initiatives.