For the past 30+ years, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Inuit from three communities in the Arctic have collected samples from belugas to better understand their overall health.
The Contaminants: We looked at 2 types of chemicals: certain types of "flame retardants" (chemicals used to reduce the spread of fire in household items like furniture and fabric) and "repellants" (chemicals used to protect surfaces like fabrics from stains).
How do these contaminants get into beluga whales?
These contaminants travel through air and water to the Arctic. Big marine animals like belugas eat many small fish that absorb the contaminants from the ocean. This is how contaminants accumulate in beluga and are concentrated up the food chain.
Findings from monitoring programs help to set International regulations to control the use of contaminants. We monitor levels in the environment to see how well international regulations are working and how they can be strengthened.
Beluga Sample Collections in Three Arctic Communities
Throughout the Arctic, hunters and monitors participate in collecting beluga tissues using sampling kits. These programs occur through partnerships between the DFO and the local HTA's, HTC's and HTO's.
Levels of these contaminants remain low in beluga in all three regions although did differ in each community. Differences may relate to the diet of belugas in each area.
Most of the repellents were decreasing in belugas, which tells us that international regulations on these chemicals are working.
Even though most of the flame retardants are regulated, levels in belugas in Pangnirtung and Tuktoyaktuk have slowly risen. We think it may take a few years for the international regulations to take affect. We will continue to monitor these contaminants.
Importance of beluga for Inuit:
- Beluga remains a very nutritious food that is culturally important to Inuit.
- Beluga maktaaq and blubber help Inuit get nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids.
- A large beluga can provide over 40 pounds of meat, over 100 pounds of maktaaq and many gallons of oil.