Photo-Canadian Press. Northern bottlenose whales swim of the coast of
Nova Scotia in this undated handout photo. An independent group of wildlife
experts has placed the northern bottlenose whale population off Nova Scotia on
the endangered list. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in
Canada estimates there are only about 130 of the mammals left on the Scotian
shelf. They are mainly found in an area called the Gully.
upgraded to endangered
BY SUE BAILEY
Notoriously friendly northern bottlenose whales are being threatened by
underwater racket, says a scientific panel.
on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has upgraded the
whale's status from threatened to the more serious endangered.
The panel of animal, marine, plant and bird experts also
added 11 other species to its at-risk list Friday, bringing the total to 415.
The lists ranks species as special concerns, threatened,
endangered, extirpated (no longer found in Canada) and extinct.
About 130 of the whales, affectionately called dolphins
on steroids, live in an Atlantic canyon off the coast of Nova Scotia.
"They look like an enormous Flipper," said Hal Whitehead,
a marine biologist at Dalhousie University.
creatures, also known as beaked whales for their distinctive snouts, have been
known to swim alongside boats.
Like all whales, they are
extremely sensitive to noise and rely on sonar for food gathering and social
And while there's little scientific data on
how noise pollution affects the deep-diving whales in Canada, their relatives
have turned up dead elsewhere.
Several beaked whales that
beached in 2000 in the Bahamas are believed to have suffered ear hemorrhages
from nearby military sonar tests.
And a U.S. judge halted
scientific seismic activity in the Gulf of California in September when two
beaked whales beached in the area.
Off the coast of Nova
Scotia, the northern bottlenose lives in an area known as the Gully. It has
been off limits to oil and gas exploration for the last five years as the
federal government ponders making it a protected space.
But it's surrounded by licensed areas where oil and gas
companies are free to search for ocean-floor deposits using seismic
Boats trail long lines that blast air guns,
sending sound waves that bounce back off the ocean floor. Seismic patterns are
used to map geological formations under the surface, offering clues about what
Exploration activity is most intense in
summer, with blasts going off every 10 seconds for hours at a time, Mr.
They can be heard thousands of kilometres
away. That, along with ocean liners and other ship traffic makes the sea an
increasingly noisy place.
"All this activity may be very
harmful to a lot of animals, or it could have little effect," said Mr.
Whitehead. "We don't know."
But the endangered listing
for the northern bottlenose whale "is based on the science that's available,"
It's believed the population of the whale
has held steady over the last decade. Adults measure about seven metres in
length and can weigh up to three tonnes.
now considered endangered include the Lake Winnipeg Physa. snail and the Oregon
forest snail, whose habitats are threatened by development.
The Puget Oregonian snail, once of southwestern British
Columbia, can no longer be found in Canada, the panel reported.
Also considered at risk are the polar bear, western toad
and eastern Massasauga rattlesnake.
The proposed Species
at Risk Act, which must still clear the Senate to become law, will offer only
limited protections on federal lands, say environmental activists.
The Sierra Legal Defence Fund has urged senators to
increase the number of species considered protected, clarify habitat protection
for migratory birds, and outlaw the killing of at-risk animals wherever they're