Quebec Superior Court Judge Claudine Roy agreed with concerns expressed by groups promoting the conservation of the St. Lawrence beluga whale regarding the delivery of a permit by the Ministère de l’Environnement du Québec to TransCanada for the development of an oil port near Cacouna (province of Quebec).
According to these groups, this permit which authorizes TransCanada to perform drilling activities during the beluga’s calving season should not have been issued by the Ministère due to the risk of disturbances in a key habitat for this population of endangered whale. Long term monitoring of this population has shown that the area near Cacouna is used extensively by females with newborn calves. Consequently, this zone is considered by experts as a key area for the reproduction of this population. This is why a request for injunction was filed to the Superior Court in order to prohibit drilling in this area during the beluga’s calving seasons which spread out from May to mid-October.
In her decision, Judge Roy stated that the ministère de l’Environnement du Québec did not respect its own legislation regarding the needs to project endangered species. Judge Roy also commented on the issue that none of the staff involved with this evaluation had sufficient expertise with marine mammals. She also highlighted the fact that the permit was given despite the Ministère de l’Environnement du Québec having not obtained scientific data from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
This legal battle and the verdict of this case generated a lot of media interest in the province which resulted in an increase of the population’s awareness regarding the issues associated with the survival of this population of marine mammals.
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The Quebec Regional Centre of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative has been monitoring causes of mortality in this population of beluga with the collaboration of different partners such as Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Parks Canada and the Groupe de recherche et d’éducation sur les mammifères marins. This year, three carcasses of beluga have been examined so far, including one newborn calf and a female that gave birth shortly before she died.
Submitted by Stéphane Lair, CWHC Quebec