Thursday, 2 October 2014

Quebec's whale population faces catastrophe


Beluga calves are dying at an unusual rate around St Lawrence estuary, Quebec

The beluga whale population in St Lawrence estuary, Quebec, is facing troubling times, with an unusually high number of beluga whale calves turning up dead.

2012 was the most difficult year for the calving season on the estuary, with a total of 16 beluga calves found dead. So far during this years’ calving season – which officially ends on 15th October – five young whales have been found dead.

Stephane Lair, a veterinary professor at University of Montreal, undertook the autopsies of the carcasses to try to determine the cause of death. He says, “What we think is that either the calf is too weak to follow the mother, or there is a bonding problem between the calf and mother.”In addition, autopsies revealed that the whales were dying of cancer at unusually high rate.Richard Michaud, scientific director of Quebec’s Marine Mammals Research and Education Group, says that the beluga population in the area has been in a slow decline for the past decade. “It’s a catastrophic trajectory we’re observing,” he says, “and we don’t yet know exactly what [the causes are] for that.” In order for the population to recover, Michaud argues that effort must be made to reduce the sources of stress on the mammals, particularly in areas that mothers and calves frequent.


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