The population of beluga whales in the St. Lawrence Estuary is dropping rapidly, and Canadian scientists are trying to figure out why. A group of scientists travelled to the area this summer to study the whales and try to see what has caused the decrease in numbers—a drop that led Quebec belugas to be put on the endangered species list this summer.
Valeria Vergara, a scientist with the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, thinks that underwater noise is killing beluga calves. She told the CBC, “This population is in a very industrial area and they’re probably bombarded by multiple factors at once.” She cited jet-skis and boats as some of the noise sources.
According to Vergera, mother and baby belugas need to be in constant contact with one another during the calves’ early lives. They communicate through calls, but she believes that underwater noise is drowning out the whales, disrupting communication between mothers and babies. Vergera studied the underwater noise by using a drone to drag an underwater microphone along with the whales wherever they went.
Other scientists who went to study the whales also examined other possible factors in the belugas’ decline, including pollution, reduced food sources, and the destruction of the whales’ habitat.
Around 10,000 belugas were estimated to live in the estuary before 1885, but now there are just 900.