Eastern Arctic bowhead whales no longer threatened: federal committee
The number of bowhead whales in Canada's eastern Arctic is growing again, meaning the species should no longer be listed as threatened, according to a scientific committee that advises the federal government on species at risk.
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is recommending that the bowhead's listing be downgraded from a threatened species to a species of special concern.
The federal committee's decision came late last week after members met in St. Andrews, N.B., to assess 27 different wildlife species across Canada.
Listing a species as of special concern is the least serious designation under the federal Species at Risk Act.
While a species of special concern is not considered to be endangered or threatened, its numbers are still sensitive to human activity or natural events.
Long a staple of Inuit culture, the Eastern Arctic bowhead became severely depleted by centuries of commercial whaling, starting in the 1500s.
Bowhead whales first came under protection in the 1930s.
Using scientific research and traditional Inuit knowledge, COSEWIC determined that bowhead populations have been "steadily increasing in recent decades," according to a news release issued by the committee.
"Although the increased abundance is encouraging, the species faces an uncertain future in a rapidly changing Arctic climate," the release said.
The committee noted that eastern Arctic bowhead now shares the same status with the western Arctic bowhead.
COSEWIC can determine a species as being of special concern, threatened, endangered or extinct. A species can also be classified as extirpated, meaning it can no longer be found in the wild.
Last year, the committee recommended the polar bear stay listed as a species of special concern across its Canadian range. The federal government is currently consulting with northern Canadians on the listing.
Other marine species assessed by the committee last week include the American plaice, an East Coast fish species that was listed as threatened, and the northern abalone of the Pacific coast, which was upgraded from threatened to endangered.
A number of wetland species were also designated as species of risk, including the horned grebe, the maritime ringlet butterfly and the northern leopard frog.
The committee's assessments will be forwarded to the federal environment minister later this summer.