Manitoba Province Urging Beluga Protection by Steve Selden | Jan 11, 2016 | Conservation Nearly a quarter, 57,000, of the worlds beluga population estimated at 200,000 migrate to the Western Hudson Bay estuaries of the Seal, Nelson and Churchill Rivers. The province of Manitoba is hoping the liberal government keeps promises made during the 2015 election to protect five per cent of Canada’s more than 200,000 kilometer coastline by 2017 and include this region. Manitoba government is pushing hard for protection of these estuaries as part of their new Beluga Habitat Sustainability Plan.If the plan goes through and is implemented it would protect moulting, feeding and calving areas for the nearly 60,000 belugas along the Hudson Bay coast in the Churchill region. This area comprises the largest sub – population in the world …a quite healthy population indeed. Nearly half the other populations, including the St. Lawrence River group in eastern Canada, are not doing as well. Increased development has deployed carcinogens through harmful chemicals into these waters.The proposal from Manitoba province will also include requests to amend federal legislation regulating pollution in Arctic waters south of the 60 degrees lattitiude so to cover the fragile ecosysystems in the estuaries frequented by the belugas. Although the current status of these creatures is healthy, rapid change in the Arctic could affect the species adversely in the near future. Development along the rivers directly related to reduced ice formation in the Arctic was listed as potential threat to the belugas of Manitoba. The difference between these river sanctuaries and the St. Lawrence where massive development has caused negative effects and subsequent “threatened” classification of that beluga whale population is vast. However a future change in commerce due to global warming could change things for Hudson Bay belugas in a hurry.A direct consequence of arctic ice melt would be increased shipping leading to extensive noise pollution that would harm the belugas ability to echo-locate and communicate with one another. Warming trends also have implications on the beluga’s winter feeding grounds in the Hudson Strait in the northeast. The ice harbors algae that sustain fish that belugas prey upon as well serving as a safe haven for the belugas hiding from killer whales. These predators are quite common in the bay in recent years due to more access from longer ice free periods.A key consideration in Churchill, and more specifically the Churchill River, is the long term strategy of the Port of Churchill, currently in the process of changing ownership. The relationship and interactions between the port and the belugas to date have been very good. With new owners and possible new directions in shipping from the facility it is important to cover all the angles with regards to water contamination and shipping routes and frequency. With belugas coming to Churchill each summer there has been an increase in tourism as a result. The economic benefits from this would be adversely affected if protection was not placed on the estuary. Beluga whale watching near the port of Churchill. Natural Habitat photo Because of these current and impending threats, advocates and researchers are intent on protecting the clean estuaries now before the need becomes dire. Once development ensues to a higher degree as a result of environmental change it could be too late Thinking ahead and protecting these areas now is crucial!