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Nature News
by Marlene Harris

Winter 2002   —   Reports on the Beluga

Recent reports have concluded that the endangered St. Lawrence beluga is slipping away at an alarming rate: one in three is said to be dying from various cancers.

This is not a new situation, but the estimated number of whales affected, up to 33%, is astounding. Conservation groups, including the Zoological Society, have been involved for years in the fight to save the species. Over the past 15 years, we have provided financial support towards conservation efforts in the region, however the plight of the beluga is today exactly the same as it was over 20 years ago, when researchers first brought to light, the plight of the whale in the Saguenay/St Lawrence. Back then there were warnings about the high levels of contaminants in the river sediments, and studies were revealing that whales were either dying or being severely affected by these contaminants.

Today, one of those pioneering researchers, veterinarian, Daniel Martineau, still studies the beluga, and believes that despite claims by companies such as Alcan (one of the major contributors to the pollution of the Saguenay) the sediments of the river remain highly contaminated.

An Alcan spokesman has said that due to technologies developed over the past few years, the amount of contaminants being discharged has been reduced. He further stated that the company was planning to install systems designed to decrease further, toxic chemicals being released into the environment.

Martineau believes that although the efforts are welcome, the beluga may be too far gone to be saved by any efforts.

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