From Abalone to Whales: Aquatic Species in Canada Face Risk of Extinction

    Bowhead Whale Recovering in Canada's Arctic

    OTTAWA, May 4 /CNW Telbec/ - So says COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of
Endangered Wildlife in Canada), which met in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, from
April 25 through May 1, 2009 to assess the risk of extinction for 27 Canadian
wildlife species. The Bowhead Whale is rooted deeply within Inuit culture and
is the only baleen whale to reside year round in the Canadian waters of the
High Arctic. Commercial whaling beginning in the 1500s severely depleted
bowhead populations long before the species was given protection in the 1930s.
Both Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge and scientific research provide evidence
that bowhead population sizes have been steadily increasing in recent decades.
As a consequence, Bowhead in the eastern Arctic were downlisted from
Threatened to Special Concern, which is also the status assigned to the
species in the western Arctic. Although the increased abundance is
encouraging, the species faces an uncertain future in a rapidly changing
Arctic climate.

    Moratorium Not Enough to Halt Declines in Two Other Marine Species

    American Plaice, a fish similar to sole and halibut, has suffered
declines exceeding 90% in some areas along Canada's east coast. The fishery
for plaice on Newfoundland's Grand Bank was once the largest fishery for
flatfish in the world. Overfishing led to a moratorium on directed harvest in
1994 for the Newfoundland population, but fisheries in the Gulf of St.
Lawrence and on the Scotian Shelf are still permitted. These populations were
assessed as Threatened. Ongoing threats include fishing mortality caused by
bycatch and under-reported catch.
    The situation is even more dismal for a large marine shellfish on the
Pacific Coast. Northern Abalone, prized for its succulent meat, is the only
species of abalone to occur in Canada. The species continues to decline
despite a 20-year moratorium on all harvest. Extensive poaching is
unquestionably the primary threat to abalone. The species was up-listed from
Threatened to Endangered, reflecting a heightened risk of extinction since the
species was last assessed in 2000.

    Wetland Species in Trouble

    Canada contains one quarter of the planet's wetlands. These extremely
important ecosystems provide key habitats for a diversity of plants and
animals, including migratory birds. They also act as nature's kidneys,
filtering toxins and debris from water before it is returned to major
waterways. Wetlands are disappearing rapidly in some areas with a greater than
60% loss in southern Ontario and Manitoba due to agriculture and development.
To date, one third of all wildlife species assessed by COSEWIC to be at risk
live in or near wetlands.
    Over 90% of the breeding grounds for Horned Grebe in North America are
located in Canadian wetlands. Declining abundance led to a status of Special
Concern for this species west of Quebec. The distinct Magdalen Islands
population in Quebec, having fewer than 50 breeders, faces a higher risk of
extinction and was assessed a status of Endangered.
    Coastal salt marshes provide unique conditions for habitat specialists
like the Maritime Ringlet. Globally this butterfly only occurs in Canada,
inhabiting a few marshes in northern New Brunswick and the Gaspé Peninsula.
Given its extremely limited distribution and vulnerability to habitat loss,
this butterfly was assessed as Endangered.
    Once ubiquitous and common in wetlands across most of Canada, the
Northern Leopard Frog has experienced major declines. In BC, it only persists
as a single population in the Creston valley in the south of the province.
This population was designated as Endangered. Prairie and northern populations
were assessed as Special Concern. Ongoing threats include spread of alien
diseases and habitat loss. Populations east of Manitoba appear to be holding
their own and were assessed as Not At Risk.

    Next meeting

    COSEWIC's next scheduled wildlife species assessment meeting will be held
in Ottawa, Ontario, in November 2009.

    About COSEWIC

    COSEWIC assesses the status of wild species, subspecies, varieties, or
other important units of biological diversity, considered to be at risk in
Canada. To do so, COSEWIC uses scientific, Aboriginal traditional and
community knowledge provided by experts from governments, academia and other
organizations. Summaries of assessments are currently available to the public
on the COSEWIC website ( and will be submitted to the
Federal Minister of the Environment in late summer 2009 for listing
consideration under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). At that time, the full
status reports will be publicly available on the SAR Public Registry
    There are now 585 wildlife species in various COSEWIC risk categories,
including 244 Endangered, 145 Threatened, 160 Special Concern, and 23
Extirpated wildlife species (i.e. no longer found in the wild in Canada). In
addition, 13 are Extinct and 45 are Data Deficient.
    COSEWIC comprises members from each provincial and territorial government
wildlife agency, four federal entities (Canadian Wildlife Service, Parks
Canada Agency, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the Federal Biodiversity
Information Partnership, chaired by the Canadian Museum of Nature), three
non-government science members, and the co-chairs of the Species Specialist
and the Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Subcommittees.

    Definition of COSEWIC terms and risk categories:

    Wildlife Species: A species, subspecies, variety, or geographically or
genetically distinct population of animal, plant or other organism, other than
a bacterium or virus, that is wild by nature and is either native to Canada or
has extended its range into Canada without human intervention and has been
present in Canada for at least 50 years.
    Extinct (X): A wildlife species that no longer exists.
    Extirpated (XT): A wildlife species that no longer exists in the wild in
Canada, but exists elsewhere.
    Endangered (E): A wildlife species facing imminent extirpation or
    Threatened (T): A wildlife species that is likely to become Endangered if
nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation or
    Special Concern (SC): A wildlife species that may become Threatened or
Endangered because of a combination of biological characteristics and
identified threats.
    Not at Risk (NAR): A wildlife species that has been evaluated and found
to be not at risk of extinction given the current circumstances.
    Data Deficient (DD): A category that applies when the available
information is insufficient (a) to resolve a wildlife species' eligibility for
assessment or (b) to permit an assessment of the wildlife species' risk of

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    Dr. Jeff Hutchings                 For general inquiries:
    Chair, COSEWIC
    Department of Biology              COSEWIC Secretariat
    Dalhousie University               c/o Canadian Wildlife Service
    Halifax NS     B3H 4J1             Environment Canada
    Telephone (1): (902) 494-2687      Ottawa ON       K1A 0H3
    Telephone (2): (902) 494-3515      Telephone: (819) 953-3215           cosewic/

    ---------------------------------- --------------------------------------

    For inquiries on birds:            For inquiries on freshwater fishes:

    Dr. Marty L. Leonard               Dr. Robert Campbell
    Department of Biology              983 Route 800 E
    Dalhousie University               R.R. #1
    1355 Oxford Street                 St. Albert ON      K0A 3C0
    Halifax NS     B3H 4J1             Telephone: (613) 987-2552
    Telephone: (902) 494-2158          Fax: (613) 987-5367
    Fax: (902) 494-3736      

    ---------------------------------- --------------------------------------

    For inquiries on arthropods        For inquiries on plants:
    (insects and related taxa):

    Dr. Laurence Packer                Dr. Erich Haber
    Department of Biology              60 Baywood Dr.
    York University                    Stittsville ON    K2S 2H5
    4700 Keele Street                  Telephone: (613) 435-0216
    Toronto ON    M3J 1P3              Fax: (613) 435-0217
    Telephone: (416) 736-2100
    ext. 22663 / 66524
    Fax: (416) 736-5698

    ---------------------------------- --------------------------------------

    For inquiries on amphibians:       For inquiries on marine fishes:

    Dr. Ronald J. Brooks               Dr. Paul Bentzen
    Department of Integrative Biology  Resource Conservation Genetics
    College of Biological Science      Dept. of Biology, Dalhousie University
    University of Guelph               Halifax NS     B3H 4J1
    Guelph ON     N1G 2W1              Telephone: (902) 494-1105
    Telephone: (519) 824-4120          Fax: (902) 494-3736
    ext. 53944               
    Fax: (519) 767-1656

    ---------------------------------- --------------------------------------

    For inquiries on marine mammals:   For inquiries on molluscs:

    Dr. Jane Watson                    Dr. Dwayne Lepitzki
    Vancouver Island University        203, 410 Buffalo Street
    900 5th Street                     P.O. Box 1311
    Nanaimo BC    V9R 5S5              Banff AB    T1L 1B3
    Telephone: (250) 753-3245          Telephone: (403) 762-0864
    local 2317               
    Fax: (250) 740-6482

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    For inquiries on terrestrial

    Dr. Mark Brigham
    Department of Biology
    University of Regina
    Regina SK       S4S 0A2
    Telephone: (306) 585-4255
    Fax: (306) 337-2410
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For further information:

For further information: Further details on all wildlife species
assessed, and the reasons for designations, can be found on the COSEWIC
website at:

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