Climate change complicates efforts to ensure survival and recovery of St. Lawrence Estuary beluga

Rob Williams, Robert C. Lacy, Erin Ashe, Ailsa Hall, Stéphane Plourde, Ian H. McQuinn, Véronique Lesage

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Decades after a ban on hunting, and despite focused management interventions, the endangered St. Lawrence Estuary (SLE) beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) population has failed to recover. We applied a population viability analysis to simulate the responses of the SLE beluga population across a wide range of variability and uncertainty under current and projected changes in environmental and climate-mediated conditions. Three proximate threats to recovery were explored: ocean noise; contaminants; and prey limitation. Even the most optimistic scenarios failed to achieve the reliable positive population growth needed to meet current recovery targets. Here we show that predicted effects of climate change may be a more significant driver of SLE beluga population dynamics than the proximate threats we considered. Aggressive mitigation of all three proximate threats will be needed to build the population's resilience and allow the population to persist long enough for global actions to mitigate climate change to take effect.
Original languageEnglish
Article number113096
Number of pages9
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
Issue numberPart B
Early online date28 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Beluga
  • Population viability analysis
  • Climate change
  • Cetacean


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