The Blue Whale finally given endangered status in Canada by COSEWIC

In 1981, the Canadian government withdrew from the International Whaling Commission (IWC), and was one of the few countries in the world to not recognize the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) as an endangered species.

It is the dedicated work of MICS’s biologists and collaborators since 1979 that has contributed to significantly change things. On May 3, 2002 at a meeting held in White Point in the county of Queens in Nova Scotia, the committee on the on endangered wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) added the blue whale to the list of endangered species found in Canada. COSEWIC re-evaluated the blue whale’s status based on a detailed report provided by MICS and Cascadia Research, authored by Richard Sears and John Calambokidis. The status report covers blue whales found in western and eastern Canadian waters, with the former part of the Northeast Pacific population and latter of the western North Atlantic. Despite having been protected globally since 1966, there is no clear indication that blue whale numbers have increased in Canadian waters.

Mingan Island Cetacean Study has identified individual blue whales using photo-identification techniques since 1979 when MICS biologists first discovered that a blue whale’s characteristic mottled pigmentation was unique to each individual. Mics now curates photo-identification catalogues for eastern Canadian waters and the Sea of Cortez and tracks the presence, distribution and dispersal of individual blue whales each year. The North Atlantic catalogue presently contains 384 individuals from eastern Canadian waters, 56 from Iceland, and 20 individuals from eastern North Atlantic, photographed predominantly off the Azores. The Sea of Cortez catalog includes 312 individuals.

All the effort expended by biologists and data collected for the past 23 years have finally been rewarded by COSEPAC.

This research would never have been possible without the contributions of hundreds of people, who year after year have supported us and found our work of value. We offer particular thanks to all of you that have adopted a blue whale since 1988, taken part in one of our research sessions and joined us in our fieldwork and believed in our work. Thank you to all who have visited our interpretation center or who have taken part in our fieldwork for a day. Special thanks to all our donors, to those who have volunteered valuable time to help in the research and generally help us run the field station, and to all those who have sent us pictures, particularly our close collaborators the GREMM, La Societe linnéenne du Quebec, Claude Legaré, Dr. Hal Whitehead and associates of Dalhousie University, and John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research.

For more information concerning COSEWIC please visit their web site.

 Definition of COSEWIC terms and risk categories:


Species: Any indigenous species, subspecies, variety or geographically defined population of wild fauna and flora.
Population: A geographically or otherwise distinct group of plants or animals that has little demographic or genetic exchange with other such groups.
Extinct: A species that no longer exists.
Extirpated: A species no longer existing in the wild in Canada, but occurring elsewhere.
Endangered: A species facing imminent extirpation or extinction.
Threatened: A species likely to become endangered if limiting factors are not reversed.
Special Concern: Those species that are particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events but are not endangered or threatened species.
Not at Risk: A species that has been evaluated and found not to be at risk.
Data Deficient: A species for which there is insufficient scientific information to support status designation.