Scientists studying the blue whale in the Gulf of St Lawrence are reporting alarmingly low calving rates from this critically endangered species, says the Sierra Club Canada Foundation. The Sierra Club recently launched a campaign to safeguard the blue whale's critical habitat in the Gulf.
The Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS) is a non-profit research organization located on the Gulf of St Lawrence's northern shore and they were the first group to begin long term study of marine mammals in the Gulf. Since their founding in 1979, this group has followed blue whale populations in eastern Canada, the Sea of Cortez and in the waters of Iceland.
After 35 years of studying the northwest Atlantic blue whale population, MICS has identified 475 individual whales. Of those 475, only 22 have been calves.
"This suggests a frighteningly low calving rate for a population already on the brink," said Blue Whale Campaign organizer Zack Metcalfe. "On a personal level...it's disheartening. More than ever we need to protect this species from offshore drilling in the Gulf."
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans estimate there are fewer than 250 adult blue whales left in the northwest Atlantic population today.
According to MICS founder Dr. Richard Sears, female blue whales can calve every two years if external factors allow. In the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) 70 blue whale calves have been identified over the last 30 years. Even in the Gulf of St Lawrence, other whale species enjoy higher calving rates.
"Humpbacks can have 10-20 calves sighted per season in the St Lawrence and there are probably more," said Sears. "Some years, finbacks have had as many as 14 calves sighted in the St Lawrence."
Sears suggested pollutants in the Gulf from industry and agriculture could be having some impact on blue whale reproduction, but this has not been demonstrated. For now the exact cause remains a mystery.
"Something is very wrong off our coast and the more people become aware of it, the better off these gentle giants will be," said Metcalfe. "That's the goal of our campaign, to foster public awareness of the endangered species occupying our waters and take action on their behalf."
To find out more, check out the Blue Whale Campaign: bluewhale.causevox.com