Addendum - COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae in Canada

Humpback Whale (North Pacific Population)

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada (COSEWIC) was established by the Species at Risk Act (SARA) as an independent body of experts responsible for identifying and assessing wildlife species considered to be at risk. COSEWIC provides a copy of its assessment and the reasons to the Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council.

In 2011, COSEWIC reassessed the North Pacific population of Humpback Whale and its status was downgraded from Threatened to Special Concern. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is responsible for advising Environment Canada on all aquatic species listing decisions. During DFO’s listing consultation between November 2011 and January 2012, some stakeholders mentioned that some new scientific information had not been considered by COSEWIC at the time of its assessment. Therefore, the decision was made to refer the species back to COSEWIC with the supporting information. The Canadian Government can refer a species back to COSEWIC when there is significant, credible information that: was not available to, or not considered by COSEWIC at the time of the assessment, and could lead to a change in the conclusions that COSEWIC reached regarding the status of the species. 

The decision by DFO to refer the Humpback Whale back to COSEWIC hinged upon evidence that suggests the species within Canadian waters may be two designatable units (DU), rather than the single designatable unit that was assessed. A DU is a subspecies, variety or geographically or genetically distinct population, where such units are both discrete and evolutionarily significant. DUs are essentially “wildlife species” as defined under SARA. The basis for the two potential DUs was a difference in winter breeding destinations between Humpbacks found off southern and northern British Columbia, as well as different genetic structure between these two potential DUs. All scientific information used by DFO to justify a referral back was provided to COSEWIC for their review.

COSEWIC responded in December 2013 with the decision not to reassess the Humpback Whale, therefore maintaining a single DU at Special Concern for the North Pacific population of Humpback Whale. COSEWIC stated that there was no clear evidence to support the division of the species into two DUs and concluded that a reassessment was not required. Therefore, DFO is taking into consideration this latest COSEWIC’s decision and is in the process of making a listing recommendation to the Minister of the Environment. This listing recommendation will then go to the Governor in Council for a listing Order decision which will then be made available to the public in the Canada Gazette.

*Information on COSEWIC’s rationale for not reassessing the Humpback Whale. Scroll down to the bottom of this page and the response will be listed under “COSEWIC’s response to wildlife species referrals by the Governor in Council” category.

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