COSEWIC Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada
COSEPAC Comité sur la situation desespèces en péril au Canada
15 October, 2014
The Honourable Leona Aglukkaq Minister of the Environment Les Terrasses de la Chaudière 10 Wellington Street 28th Floor Gatineau, Québec K1A 0H3
Dear Minister Aglukkaq,
Please find enclosed a CD containing the 2013-2014 Annual Report of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), which I respectfully submit to you and to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC). The submission of this report fulfills COSEWIC’s obligations under Section 26 of Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), which requires that COSEWIC submit a report on its activities to the Minister of the Environment and members of the CESCC annually. This Annual Report is also available online through the SARA public registry at: http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/gen_info/cosewic_annual_e.cfm.
As you know, COSEWIC’s role is to assess the conservation status of wildlife species in Canada. Under Item III, Wildlife Species Status Assessments, of the Annual Report, you will find the status assignments for the wildlife species assessed in 2013/2014, the applicable criteria and the reasons for the status designation. The Status Reports containing the information used in the assessments are provided in the accompanying CD and are available, as well, on the following FTP site:
I understand from officials at Environment Canada that the reports will be posted on the SARA public registry in due course. The reports will also be provided to CESCC members.
The submission of this information fulfills COSEWIC’s obligations under Section 25 of SARA, which requires that COSEWIC provide the Minister of the Environment and the CESCC with a copy of the status assessments and the reasons for the assessments. It also fulfills our obligations under Section 24, which requires that COSEWIC review the classification of species at risk at least once every 10 years.
With the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 708 wildlife species in the following categories: 15 Extinct, 22 Extirpated, 306 Endangered, 165 Threatened, and 200 Special Concern. In addition, 56 wildlife species have been assessed as Data Deficient and 172 as Not at Risk.
I would also like to take this opportunity to identify two ongoing challenges for COSEWIC.
The first challenge relates to delays in Ministerial Appointments for non-government members on COSEWIC. Each year, the Chair of COSEWIC provides the Minister with nominees for non-government positions that will become vacant on 31 December of that year. Increasingly, Ministerial Appointments for these positions have been delayed, leaving positions vacant for as much as nine months. These delays negatively affect the functioning of the Committee and COSEWIC’s ability to fulfill its legislated mandate under the SARA.
The second challenge concerns the timing of approvals for COSEWIC’s Species Assessment Meetings and for our Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge and Species Specialist Subcommittee Meetings. Although the dates for the meetings are typically set a year in advance, we continue to receive many approvals only a month or less ahead of the scheduled meeting. These delays have resulted in reduced attendance and increased costs, as members scramble to find plane tickets at the last minute. I do hope this situation will be rectified, as it negatively affects COSEWIC’s ability to deliver robust, timely and efficient status assessments.
COSEWIC looks forward to your advice on how best to address both challenges.
As this is my last report as Chair of COSEWIC, I wish to express my appreciation for your support and the continuing support of your Ministry and its role in the conservation
and protection of wildlife species at risk in Canada.
Marty L. Leonard Past Chair, COSEWIC
c.c. – Sue Milburn-Hopwood, Director General, Canadian Wildlife Service
Dr. Eric Taylor, Chair, Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada
“The functions of COSEWIC are to (a) assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species and
classify the species as extinct, extirpated, endangered, threatened or of special concern,
indicate that COSEWIC does not have sufficient information to classify the species, or
indicate that the species is not currently at risk”.
Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”.
COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (October, 2013 to September, 2014) from November 24 to November 29, 2013 and from April 27 to May 2, 2014. During the current reporting period, COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 56 wildlife species.
The wildlife species assessment results for the 2013-2014 reporting period include the following:
Not at Risk:
Of the 56 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 40 that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 25 of those wildlife species resulted in a confirmation of the same status as the previous assessment (see Table 1a).
Table 1a. Confirmation of status for wildlife species previously assessed:
Status assessed as Endangered under an Emergency Assessment February 3, 2012.
Data Deficient and Not at Risk: COSEWIC assessed one new wildlife species in May 2014 as Not at Risk: Northwestern Cellar Spider.
With the transmission of this report, COSEWIC provides assessments (see Table 1b) of 30 wildlife species newly classified as Extirpated, Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern to the Minister of Environment to consider whether to recommend to the Governor in Council (GIC) that they be added to Schedule 1 of SARA.
Table 1b. Newly classified wildlife species for consideration of listing on Schedule 1 of SARA:
Caribou (Central Mountain population)
Caribou (Southern Mountain population)
Eastern Tiger Salamander (Prairie population)
Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee
Loggerhead Shrike Eastern subspecies
Oregon Branded Skipper
Rainbow Trout (Athabasca River populations)
White Hake (Southern Gulf ofSt. Lawrence population)
Audouin’s Night–stalking Tiger Beetle
Rocky Mountain Tailed Frog
Western Bumble Bee occidentalis subspecies
White Hake (Atlantic and Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence population)
Caribou (Northern Mountain population)
Grasshopper Sparrow pratensis subspecies
Mormon Metalmark (Prairie population)
Western Bumble Bee mckayi subspecies
Appendix Ⅰ provides the detailed results of COSEWIC’s status assessment of each wildlife species, including the reasons for each designation. Status reports containing the information on which COSEWIC’s status assessments are based will be available on the SARA Public Registry at the following address: Species at Risk Public Registry web site.
As of May 2014, COSEWIC’s assessments include 693 wildlife species in various risk categories, including 306 Endangered, 165 Threatened, 200 Special Concern, and 22 Extirpated (i.e. no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 15 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct.
Section 27 of SARA states that the Governor in Council may, on the recommendation of the Minister, by order amend the List in accordance with subsections (1.1) and (1.2) by adding a wildlife species, by reclassifying a listed wildlife species or by removing a listed wildlife species, and the Minister may, by order, amend the List in a similar fashion in accordance with subsection (3).
Classification was reviewed for three wildlife species previously listed as Special Concern on Schedule 3 of SARA. COSEWIC confirmed the status of both the Giant Threespine Stickleback and the Unarmoured Threespine Stickleback as Special Concern. COSEWIC assessed the Hare-footed Locoweed as Threatened, resulting in a change of status category.
Section 29 of SARA provides for the listing of a species based on an imminent threat to the survival of the wildlife species under an emergency basis. Section 30 (1) of SARA states that COSEWIC is to prepare a status report on the wildlife species and, within one year after the making of the order, COSEWIC must, in a report in writing to the Minister, (a) confirm the classification of the species; (b) recommend to the Minister that the species be reclassified; or (c) recommend to the Minister that the species be removed from the List.
As reported in COSEWIC’s 2012 Annual Report to CESCC, on February 3, 2012 COSEWIC assessed the status of the Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus), the Northern Myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) and the Tri-colored Bat (Perimyotis subflavus) as Endangered on an emergency basis. COSEWIC confirmed the status of these wildlife species as Endangered based on a full status report at the Wildlife Species Assessment meeting in November 2013.
Section 27 (1.1) (c) of SARA provides for the Governor in Council to, on the recommendation of the Minister, refer an assessment of the status of a species back to COSEWIC for further information or consideration.
The North Pacific population of Humpback Whale was referred back to COSEWIC for further consideration (Canada Gazette Part 1, July 2012). The rationale and supporting documentation for the species referral were received from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) on December 5, 2012.
The Pacific population of Humpback Whales was assessed by COSEWIC as Threatened in 2003. An updated status report was commissioned by the COSEWIC Marine Mammals Specialist Subcommittee during 2009-2010 and the population was reassessed by COSEWIC as Special Concern in May 2011. This change in status resulted from new information on abundance and trend for Humpback Whales in Canadian Pacific waters that indicated significant recovery from depletion due to commercial whaling. Field studies by Fisheries & Oceans Canada (DFO) during 2002–2006, but particularly during 2004–2006 as part of a North Pacific–wide international humpback study known as Splash, led to an abundance estimate of about 2145 humpbacks in BC waters and an annual population growth rate of around 4% per year.
In December 2012, the Chair of COSEWIC received a letter from the Director General, Ecosystems Management, Fisheries & Oceans Canada, indicating that the update status report for Pacific Humpback Whales was being referred back to COSEWIC for the following reason:
The Chair of COSEWIC asked the Marine Mammals Specialist Subcommittee to review the material provided by DFO and determine whether there was evidence for two designatable units (DUs).
Dr. John Ford, a member of the COSEWIC Marine Mammals Specialist Subcommittee prepared a report examining the evidence for two DUs. He was asked to write the report because he had been part of the research program that provided the new population estimates and recent analyses of population structure. Dr. Ford looked at evidence for two DUs based on the migratory destinations, regional movements, site fidelity, and mitochondrial DNA.
Based on Dr. Ford’s report, the Subcommittee concluded that the current evidence was not sufficient to divide the population into two DUs and the single DU used in the 2011 assessment should stand.
At the November 2013 COSEWIC Species Assessment Meeting, following a vote by the members, COSEWIC confirmed its previous reassessment of the species based on one DU as recommended by the COSEWIC Marine Mammals Specialist Subcommittee. The Chair of COSEWIC wrote to Minister Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment (with copy to the Minister of Fisheries & Oceans Canada) dated December 17, 2013 providing COSEWIC’s response to the referral back.
Appendix Ⅱ provides COSEWIC’s response to the referral back of the Humpback Whale (North Pacific population). Please see also the letter to the Minister of the Environment on the following website: Stay Informed web site
Section 15.1 (b) of SARA states that one of the functions of COSEWIC is to “determine when wildlife species are to be assessed, with priority given to those more likely to become extinct”.
Following COSEWIC's process for prioritizing new wildlife species for assessment (as outlined at: Wildlife Species Assessment web site), 14 wildlife species from COSEWIC's Species Specialist Subcommittees’ candidate lists (four of which will be bundled as indicated in Item 2 below) were chosen by the Committee for status report commissioning (Table 2).
Table 2. Status Reports to be commissioned in Fall, 2015
Common Name of Wildlife Species
Bundle of Four Species: False-Foxglove Sun Moth
Bundle of Four Species: Smooth Yellow False Foxglove
Bundle of Four Species: Fern-leaved Yellow False Foxglove
Bundle of Four Species: Downy Yellow False Foxglove
American Bumble Bee
Yukon Wild Buckwheat
Smoker’s Lung Lichen
Mosses & Lichens
Amphibians & Reptiles
Mottled Horsehair Lichen
Mosses & Lichens
White-rimmed Shingle Lichen
Mosses & Lichens
Section 18 (1) of SARA requires COSEWIC to establish subcommittees of specialists to assist in the preparation and review of status reports on wildlife species considered to be at risk, including subcommittees specializing in groups of wildlife species and a subcommittee specializing in aboriginal traditional knowledge.
COSEWIC’s Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Subcommittee is responsible for ensuring that Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge (ATK) is appropriately accounted for in COSEWIC’s assessment process. The Subcommittee consists of members appointed by the Federal Minister of Environment. The Co-chairs of the ATK Subcommittee are members of COSEWIC and provide COSEWIC with their expertise on ATK.
The Subcommittee had another productive year. ATK source reports, which compile all potential sources of documented ATK for a given species, were completed for Western Painted Turtle, Rusty Blackbird, Ivory Gull, Burrowing Owl, River Redhorse, Westslope Cutthroat Trout, Harbour Porpoise, Ringed Seal, Cherry Birch, all Ladybeetle species in Canada and all Ash species in Canada. In addition, ATK assessment reports, which summarize the relevant content of documented ATK sources, were completed for the Narwhal, as well as a draft version of the Lake Sturgeon. These reports were prepared to inform species status assessments.
In addition, the ATK Subcommittee revised its guidance documents for the use of ATK in the COSEWIC process and continued with plans for an ATK Gathering Project on Narwhal.
COSEWIC extends its sincere gratitude to the members of the ATK Subcommittee for their ongoing commitment to ensuring COSEWIC assessments are informed by the best possible information.
COSEWIC’s Species Specialists Subcommittees (SSCs) provide taxonomic expertise to the Committee. Each SSC is typically led by two Co-chairs and members are recognized Canadian experts in the taxonomic group in question, able to demonstrate high standards of education, experience, and expertise and have a demonstrated knowledge of wildlife conservation. Members are drawn from universities, provincial wildlife agencies, museums, Conservation Data Centres, and other sources of expertise on Canadian species. SSC members support the Co-chairs in developing candidate lists of species to be considered for assessment, commissioning status reports for priority species, reviewing reports for scientific accuracy and completeness, and proposing to COSEWIC a status for each species. Currently, COSEWIC has 10 SSCs: Amphibians and Reptiles, Arthropods, Birds, Freshwater Fishes, Marine Fishes, Marine Mammals, Molluscs, Mosses and Lichens, Terrestrial Mammals and Vascular Plants.
SSC meetings take place annually in different locations in Canada or by teleconference held once or twice a year. Observers are invited to attend and public information sessions may also take place.
Aside from their continued work to ensure that high quality status reports are brought to each COSEWIC Wildlife Species Assessment Meeting, SSCs also periodically undertake special projects aimed at assisting the work of the SSCs. For example, the Amphibians & Reptiles SSC plans to update the rationale and refine the boundaries for the Amphibians & Reptiles Terrestrial Faunal Provinces map. A new map will assist the SSC in spatially delineating designatable units. The Marine Fishes SSC proposed an approach for assessing Chinook Salmon Designatable Units that COSEWIC approved in principle. Similarly, the Freshwater Fishes SSC is working on a Designatable Unit structure for Whitefish and Ciscoes.
COSEWIC is extremely grateful for the important work of the SSC members who provide their time and expertise on a volunteer basis.
Section 19 of SARA states that COSEWIC “may make rules respecting the holding of meetings and the general conduct of its activities.”
COSEWIC is guided in its activities by an Operations and Procedures Manual that is reviewed annually by COSEWIC’s Operations and Procedures Subcommittee, who recommend any necessary changes to the Committee for their approval. During this reporting period, the COSEWIC Operations and Procedures Manual was updated to reflect some minor changes in COSEWIC’s procedures. The most notable changes are as follows:
Addition of two new members to the ATK Subcommittee to alleviate the workload.
Addition of two new members for the Vascular Plants Specialist Subcommittee (from 10 to 12 members) and one new member for the Amphibians & Reptiles Specialist Subcommittee (from 9 to 10 members) to assist with the increased workload associated with reassessments. The number of members may be subsequently reduced if the workload decreases in the future.
A Threats Classification and Assessment Calculator is now included in species status reports. Each Threats Calculator is completed with the collective input from SSC Co-chairs, jurisdictions, Secretariat staff and others who participate in teleconferences organized by the Secretariat. Dave Fraser, member from British Columbia, spearheaded this important undertaking for COSEWIC over the past few years. He has conducted workshops, attended subcommittee meetings, participated in numerous teleconferences and provided advice to SSC Co-chairs upon request. COSEWIC is very appreciative of his expertise, efforts and the considerable amount of time he has devoted to this task.
COSEWIC wishes to acknowledge the significant contributions of Dr. Simon Nadeau, member from Fisheries & Oceans Canada, who served as Chair of the Operations & Procedures Subcommittee from 2010 to 2014. Dr. Dwayne Lepitzki (Co-chair, Molluscs Specialist Subcommittee) will succeed him in that role.
Section 18 (1) of SARA also allows COSEWIC to establish subcommittees to advise it or to exercise or perform any of its functions.
Procedural working groups are essential to ensuring COSEWICs operations and procedures are efficient, effective and clearly followed, thus maintaining the quality and consistency of COSEWIC status assessments and processes.
Press Release Working Group
This Working Group is active before and during each Wildlife Species Assessment Meeting on the production of each press release.
Criteria Working Group
This Working Group provides ongoing reviews and updates of COSEWIC criteria and their application based on changes to IUCN criteria.
New Species Priority Setting Working Group
This Working Group has developed a more consistent and stringent process for prioritizing new species for assessment by COSEWIC. The new prioritization process includes the use of RAMAS software that incorporates uncertainty and consideration of new criteria such as Existing Data and Search Effort and whether a proposed species can be bundled. The updated process was approved by COSEWIC and a revised template is being developed.
Species Bundling Working Group
This Working Group is overseeing a call for bids in Fall 2014 (subject to financial resources being available) for an Ecosystem Level Threat Analysis report for species in the South Okanagan. COSEWIC will be reassessing many species in that region in the near future, particularly vascular plants and birds. The information gathered for this report will potentially allow COSEWIC to bundle species with common threats for assessment. The aim is to build on what exists and also to provide a good historical analysis. The Working Group anticipates that in 2016 an interim report would be brought to COSEWIC.
Interpreting “Wild by Nature” Working Group
This Working Group was struck following a request from the Canadian Wildlife Service to provide COSEWIC’s definition (i.e. interpretation) of “Wild by Nature”. Its work is in progress.
Terrestrial Ecozones Working Group
A new working group was formed to review and update the COSEWIC Terrestrial Ecozones Maps.
Section 19(a) of SARA states that COSEWIC may make rules respecting the holding of meetings and the general conduct of its activities, including rules respecting the selection of persons to chair its meetings
Dr. Marty Leonard ended her second term as Chair of COSEWIC at the end of the August, 2014. Following procedures set out in the COSEWIC Operations and Procedures Manual, a nomination Committee was struck in April, 2013, in preparation for the election of a new Chair of COSEWIC. David Fraser, member from British Columbia, chaired the Nominating Committee comprised of several members of COSEWIC. At the Wildlife Species Assessment Meeting in April, 2014, he presented two candidates for the position including Dr. Eric (Rick) Taylor, Co-chair, Freshwater Fishes Specialist Subcommittee, the top ranked candidate. Members voted and Dr. Taylor was elected Chair of COSEWIC for a two-year (renewable) term of office (September 1, 2014 – August 31, 2016).
Dr. Taylor thanked the membership for electing him as Chair and expressed appreciation to the former Chair and others for their offers of support.
Dr. Marty Leonard was recognized for her outstanding contributions as Chair of COSEWIC since 2010.
Insofar as resources allow, COSEWIC and its Chairs over the years have made every effort to inform managers and the public on the work of the Committee.
During the current reporting period, COSEWIC released two press releases outlining the results of the Fall 2013 and the Spring 2014 Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings. These releases can be found on the COSEWIC website.
In addition, the Chair of COSEWIC, Dr. Marty Leonard, attended the following meetings and gave presentations on the work of COSEWIC:
Participated in a teleconference on August 20, 2013 with the Executive Director, Canadian Bison Association, during which time Dr. Justina Ray, Co-chair, Terrestrial Mammals Specialist Subcommittee, spoke about the COSEWIC assessment process, particularly as it relates to Wood and Plains Bison, which were assessed November 2013.
Participated in a teleconference with the Hunting and Trapping Organization chairs along with representatives of Wildlife Management Boards and Canadian Wildlife Service staff on October 22, 2013, related to the Peary Caribou recovery strategy, where Dr. Justina Ray gave a presentation on COSEWIC.
Participated in a symposium at Lakehead University on extinction November 14 - 16, 2013 and spoke about how COSEWIC considers extinction risk when prioritizing and assessing species.
Met with Sue Milburn-Hopwood, Director General for, the Canadian Wildlife Service, along with Donna Hurlburt, Co-chair of the ATK Subcommittee on October 31, 2013.
Gave a presentation on the application of COSEWIC criteria to the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario on December 10, 2013.
Gave a presentation on COSEWIC activities and challenges to the Canadian Wildlife Directors Committee on May 9, 2014.
Met with the Minister of the Environment on April 3, 2014, to discuss plans for the ATK Gathering Project on Narwhal and delays with COSEWIC appointments and meeting (event plan) approvals.
In addition, Dr. Simon Nadeau, member from Fisheries & Oceans Canada, made a presentation on February 11, 2014 to the Mining Association of Canada’s Environment and Science Committee on the COSEWIC process and opportunities for early engagement in the process.
Section 16 of SARA states that (1) COSEWIC is to be composed of members appointed by the Minister after consultation with the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council and with any experts and expert bodies, such as the Royal Society of Canada, that the Minister considers to have relevant expertise. (2) Each member must have expertise drawn from a discipline such as conservation biology, population dynamics, taxonomy, systematics or genetics or from community knowledge or aboriginal traditional knowledge of the conservation of wildlife species. (3) The members are to be appointed to hold office for renewable terms of not more than four years.
Members from the Federal, Provincial or Territorial jurisdictions are recommended to the Federal Minister of the Environment by the jurisdiction.
The Co-chairs of the ATK Subcommittee, as are all ATK Subcommittee members, are nominated by National Aboriginal Organizations with the exception of two of its members to be nominated by the ATK Subcommittee. Subcommittee members are appointed by the Minister of the Environment. Co-chairs are elected by the ATK Subcommittee membership and recommended to the Minister for appointment to that position. In 2013, Dan Benoit, member of the ATK Subcommittee, was elected Co-chair of the ATK Subcommittee to replace the former Co-chair, Dean Trumbley. He was subsequently appointed to that position for a four-year term by the Minister of Environment. Dr. Donna Hurlburt, Co-chair, was re-elected to that position by the ATK Subcommittee and has been recommended to the Minister for re-appointment to COSEWIC for a further four-year term of office, effective January 1, 2015.
Species Specialist Subcommittee Co-chairs and Non-government Science Members are recommended to the Minister of the Environment by COSEWIC following an in-depth review process.
A call for six Species Specialist Subcommittee Co-chairs and one Non-government Science member, with terms ending on December 31, 2014, was posted on the COSEWIC website between January 22 and February 19, 2014. Once the call was closed, Selection Committees comprised of both COSEWIC members and Species Specialist Subcommittee members scrutinized the applications following procedures for member selection set out in COSEWIC’s Operations & Procedures Manual. The Chairs of each Selection Committee prepared reports summarizing the strengths and weaknesses of the applicants, which were discussed at the Spring 2014 Wildlife Species Assessment meeting. Candidates were ranked by COSEWIC members and their names and CVs were provided to the Federal Minister of the Environment and CESCC in May 2014 for consideration of appointment. As the Call for the Co-chair of the Arthropods Specialist Subcommittee was unsuccessful in attracting suitable applicants, the Call was reposted from 12 June to 10 July, 2014 and attracted two qualified applicants. Following selection by COSEWIC, the names and CVs of both ranked nominees for appointment were provided to the Federal Minister of the Environment and CESCC on August 26, 2014.
In accordance with Section 25(1) of SARA when COSEWIC completes an assessment of the status of a wildlife species, it must provide the Minister and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council with a copy of the assessment and the reasons for it. A copy of the assessment must also be included on the public registry.
Wildlife Species assessed since the last annual report, including status assigned, reasons for designation (including uncertainties if applicable) and COSEWIC criteria with alphanumeric codes are provided in Appendix Ⅰ.
In accordance with Section 25(2) of SARA, COSEWIC must annually prepare a complete list of every wildlife species it has assessed since the coming into force of that section and a copy of that list must be included in the public registry.
Water Pennywort Hydrocotyle umbellata (Special Concern)
The Pacific population of Humpback Whales was assessed by COSEWIC as Threatened in 2003. An updated status report was commissioned by the COSEWIC Marine Mammals Specialist Subcommittee during 2009-10 and the population was reassessed by COSEWIC as Special Concern in May 2011 (COSEWIC 2011a). This change in status resulted from new information on abundance and trend for Humpback Whales in Canadian Pacific waters that indicated significant recovery from depletion due to commercial whaling. Field studies by DFO during 2002–06, but particularly during 2004–06 as part of a North Pacific–wide international humpback study known as Splash, led to an abundance estimate of about 2145 humpbacks in BC waters and an annual population growth rate of around 4% per year (Rambeau 2008; Ford et al. 2009).
In December 2012, the Chair of COSEWIC received a letter from Sharon Ashley, Director General, Ecosystems Management, DFO, indicating that the update status report for Pacific Humpback Whales was being referred back to COSEWIC for the following reason:
According to COSEWIC guidelines for recognizing Designatable Units (Appendix F5, Operations and Procedures Manual, COSEWIC 2011b), DUs should be discrete and evolutionarily significant units of the taxonomic species, where “significant” means that the unit is important to the evolutionary legacy of the species as a whole and if lost would likely not be replaced through natural dispersion. A population or group of populations may be considered discrete based on one or more of the following criteria: 1) evidence of genetic distinctiveness, 2) natural disjunction between substantial portions of the species’ geographic range that limits movements between separate regions and favours the evolution of local adaptations, and 3) occupation of differing eco-geographic regions leading to local adaptations. In order to warrant DU status, discrete populations must have a measure of evolutionarily significance. This could include 1) genetic characteristics that reflect deep intraspecific phylogenetic divergence between the populations, 2) ecological differences sufficient to give rise to local adaptations, and/or 3) evidence that the loss of a discrete population would result in an extensive gap in the range of the species in Canada.
In the 2011 status report, the Marine Mammal SSC assessed the Pacific population of Humpback Whales in Canada as a single Designatable Unit (DU), as in previous assessments. The 2011 report recognized that differences in migratory destinations and mtDNA haplotype frequencies suggest that Humpback Whales in BC “may belong to two different subpopulations”, but it states that “for the current assessment all of the whales in British Columbia waters are considered a single population”. The report states that “future work that includes genetic and other analyses may provide a basis for recognizing multiple DUs in B.C. waters”, but that the available evidence was “not sufficient to justify more than one DU at present” (COSEWIC 2011a, p. 5).
In the following sections, additional information is provided on the population structure of Humpback Whales in Canadian Pacific waters and the question of whether the population comprises one or more DUs is considered in greater detail than in the 2011 status report. Two journal articles that have become available since the 2011 status report were considered in this reconsideration (Barlow et al. 2011; Baker et al. in press).
Three lines of information are available to assess population structure and DUs of Humpback Whales in Pacific Canadian waters: 1) winter migratory destinations based on photo-identification data, 2) regional movements and site fidelity of individuals within Canadian waters from photo-identifications, and 3) mtDNA haplotype frequencies from skin biopsies.
Long description for Figure 1
Long description for Figure 2
Table 1 of Appendix Ⅱ. Proportion of Humpback Whales migrating to different breeding areas according to the feeding regions in which they were identified. Sample size (n) is the number of animals in each feeding region that matched to a breeding area by photo- identification. Source: Calambokidis et al. (2008) and Splash data.
Breeding area (Mexico)
Breeding area (Central Amer)
There is currently no clear evidence to support the division of the Humpback Whale population off Canada’s Pacific coast into two DUs. Available information on movements and site fidelity in BC waters suggests a gradual demographic transition of individuals from north to south along the coast. There is no indication of an abrupt change in regional movement patterns that might reflect or signify a boundary between potential DUs. Similarly, there appears to be a steady latitudinal transition in migratory destinations of Humpback Whales along the coast, from predominantly Hawaiian migrants in the north to predominantly Mexican migrants in the south. Again, there is no evidence of an abrupt change in migratory destination that might represent a population division (DU identification) within BC waters. Finally, the significant differences in genetic structure of whales in the SBC–NWA and NBC regions described from the Splash study may be driven largely by non-random geographic sampling. The transition in mtDNA haplotype frequencies along the coast may represent a cline, which would be consistent with the patterns of site fidelity, regional movements, and changes in migratory destinations. In summary, the Humpback Whale population off the Canadian west coast does not meet any of the COSEWIC guidelines used to recognize multiple DUs.
Baker, C. S., R. W. Slade, J. L. Bannister, R. B. Abernethy, M. T. Weinrich, J. Lien, J. Urban, P. Corkeron, J. Calambokidis, O. Vasquez and S. R. Palumbi. 1994. Hierarchical structure of mitochondrial DNA gene flow among humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae, world-wide. Molecular Ecology 3:313-327.
Baker, C. S., L. Medrano-Gonzalez, J. Calambokidis, A. Perry, F. Pichler, H. Rosenbaum, J. M. Straley, J. Urban-Ramirez, M. Yamaguchi and O. von Ziegesar. 1998. Population structure of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA variation among humpback whales in the North Pacific. Molecular Ecology 7:695-707.
Baker, C.S., D. Steel, J. Calambokidis, E. Falcone, U. González-Peral, J. Barlow, A.M. Burdin, P.J. Clapham, J.K.B. Ford, C.M. Gabriele, D.K. Mattila, L. Rojas-Bracho, J.M. Straley, B.L. Taylor, J. Urbán R., P.R. Wade, D. Weller, B.H. Witteveen, and M. Yamaguchi. in press. Strong maternal fidelity and natal philopatry shape genetic structure in North Pacific humpback whales. Marine Ecology Progress Series.
Barlow, J., J. Calambokidis, E.A. Falcone, C.S. Baker, A.M. Burdin, P.J. Clapham, J.K.B. Ford, C.M. Gabriele, R. LeDuc, D.K. Mattila, T.J. Quinn II, L. Rojas- Bracho. J.M. Straley, B.L. Taylor, J. Urbán R., P.R. Wade, D. Weller, B.H. Witteveen, and M. Yamaguchi. 2011. Humpback whale abundance in the North Pacific estimated by photographic capture-recapture with bias correction from simulation studies. Marine Mammal Science 27:793-818.
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