The southern beluga and five other species are now considered endangered in Canada, as the country's at-risk species list grows in the latest assessment of Canadian wildlife.
The committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), the government body tasked with determining the risk level wildlife faces, assessed 36 species at its latest meeting. Ten of those species were being examined for the first time.
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COSEWIC found 14 species are endangered, including seven that had been assessed as endangered in previous years. Minister of Environment Leona Aglukkaq will now decide whether or not to accept the committee's recommendations and add species to the Species at Risk Act.
'Unexplained deaths' of beluga calves
COSEWIC first assessed the southern beluga whale, which lives in the St. Lawrence estuary, a decade ago. Back then, it considered the whale a threatened animal.
'There are worrying signs of recent declines and unexplained deaths of [beluga] calves.' - Committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada
"Today, St. Lawrence Estuary beluga face a new suite of mounting threats, including toxic algal blooms, pollution, noise disturbance and industrial developments," COSEWIC said in a statement. "There are worrying signs of recent declines and unexplained deaths of calves."
It determined the beluga is endangered if its critical habitat is not protected.
In response to the findings, TransCanada is temporarily stopping further work at its Cacouna, Que., site on the St. Lawrence River, said Energy East pipeline spokesman Tim Duboyce in a written statement.
The stoppage will allow the company "to analyze the recommendation, assess any impacts from Energy East and review all viable options as we look ahead."
Less than 2,000 spotted turtles in Canada
COSEWIC also found the spotted turtle, which resides in southern Ontario wetlands, to be endangered with less than 2,000 remaining in Canada.
COSEWIC categories for species
The committee can find a species to be:
- Not at risk.
- Data deficient, which means there is insufficient data to complete the assessment.
- Special concern.
- Extirpated, which means the species no longer exists in Canada's wilderness, but does elsewhere.
The spotted turtle takes up to 15 years to reach maturity and doesn't produce much offspring, which makes it vulnerable to any increase of adult mortality. COSEWIC cites road kill, illegal pet trade and ongoing loss of wetland habitat as contributing to the spotted turtle's declining population.
"There is a high probability the species will disappear completely if threats continue," COSEWIC said. It previously assessed the reptile in May 2004 and found it to be endangered.
Additionally, the committee says three types of caribou are in decline:
- Boreal caribou, assessed as threatened.
- Newfoundland caribou, assessed as special concern.
- Atlantic-Gaspésie caribou, assessed as endangered.
There are less than 120 adult Atlantic-Gaspésie caribou alive today. The region's caribou was also considered to be endangered by COSEWIC in May 2002.
COSEWIC also assessed three types of trees, listing the red mulberry and limber pine as endangered, and the blue ash as threatened. The limber pine was being assessed for the first time, while the red mulberry had been found endangered more than a decade ago.
The committee found one animal to be extirpated, meaning it no longer exists in Canada but is still found outside the country's borders. The eastern box turtle was previously assessed in May 2002, but there was insufficient data for the committee to make a proper recommendation.
In total, 14 species were listed as endangered, six as threatened, 14 as special concern, one as extirpated and one as data deficient.
A recent study found the Canadian government may be shirking its legal responsibility to protect endangered species. Scientists discovered that 86 per cent of legally protected species either maintain the same level of risk or have deteriorated over time.
"The responsibility to safeguard our precious natural heritage rests with Canadians everywhere," COSEWIC said.