Current Weather
-1.6°C Sunny NW 5 km/h
Full Forecast
Tbnewswatch Local News
Friday May 22 2015
5:59 AM EDT
2014-06-20 at 14:52

Beluga lessons

Robert Michaud, scientific director with the Group for  Research and Education on Marine Mammals.
Jamie Smith,
Robert Michaud, scientific director with the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals.
By Jamie Smith,

THUNDER BAY -- What goes down the drain in this city can end up inside beluga whales, a living litmus test for the health of the Great Lakes system and the people who live here.

Calling the waters along Quebec home since the last ice age, there were an estimated 10,000 belugas in the St. Lawrence before whaling brought the population to around 1,000 before hunting stopped in the 1950s.

The population was expected to double after the whalers left. But by the 1970s when the belugas hadn't recovered researchers began asking why. 

"We've been looking for explanations for that and the main explanation we have is that they've been exposed to toxic compounds that we've dumped in the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence for decades," said Robert Michaud, scientific director with the Group for  Research and Education on Marine Mammals.

Belugas, which typically live in the Arctic, are social mammals with long life-expectancies just like humans.

Michaud has spent his early mornings over the past 30 years heading out to the St. Lawrence. He's followed herds of belugas, watching babies become grandparents in their natural habitat.

"We think in doing so we probably will better understand how we can help ourselves surviving in this amazing environment," he said.

He's also seen the toxins in their tissue, the increased cancer rates and climate change threaten their environment, similar to human populations.

Bans on PCBs and other toxins helped recovery efforts for awhile but in the past 15 years numbers are on the decline again. There are now less than 900 belugas left in the St. Lawrence.

"They're telling us a lot about what we've done with our environment and it will take a lot of investment and time to change this system," Michaud said.

The belugas are a bellwether for the 40 million people who use the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence for drinking water, represented by the more than 100 mayors in Thunder Bay for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative conference, which wrapped up Friday.

Mayor Keith Hobbs said he never thought he'd be considering the beluga whale but Michaud, along with a presentation from Chicago's Shedd Aquarium discussing a recent partnership with GREMM, have shown how vital keeping the St. Lawrence whale population healthy is.

"If beluga whales are dying we need to fix things so our people aren't dying as well," he said.


Click here to submit a letter to the editor.

Click here to report a typo or error


We've improved our comment system.
joey joe joe jr. shabadoo says:
keep raping the earth to show yer status with diamonds & gold...keep dumping crap in our waters & fill the air with smoke to get these rare objects...for what? for society to tell you "you da man" by wearing that gold necklace & or diamond ring?
weve become too comfortable raping mother earth of its resources, not caring about the effects it puts on the next generation.
who cares right?
society needs a big wake-up call

6/22/2014 11:31:00 AM
nvjgu says:
This planets days are numbred. There striping the top right off Alberta and polluting all the water doing it. What a mess.
6/20/2014 10:06:06 PM
Mika says:
"This planets days are numbered"??? It's not the planets days that are numbered, it's "our" days on it... (humans and other species) ... to say the planets days are numbered, is to say the least a little arrogant.

The planet was here long before we existed and will be here long after... well, at least until the sun explodes...

... and this post was not advocating for destroying "our" environment... just to highlight how self centred, most of "us" are.
6/22/2014 10:38:25 AM
Comments for this story are semi-moderated. Read our comment guideline.

Add a new comment.
You must log in to add comments.
Create a new account
Log In