COSEWIC Status Appraisal Summary on the Grey Whale Eschrichtius robustus (Atlantic population) in Canada – 2009

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Document Information

Document Information

Extirpated – 2009

COSEWICstatus appraisal summaries are working documents used in assigning the status of wildlife species suspected of being at risk in Canada. This report may be cited as follows:

COSEWIC. 2009. COSEWICstatus appraisal summary on the Grey Whale Eschrichtiusrobustus (Atlantic population) in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. vii pp.

Production note:
This status appraisal summary constitutes a review of classification of the Frosted Elfin Callophrys irus in Canada which was last assessed by COSEWICin 2000. The 2000 COSEWICStatus Report on the Grey Whale Eschrichtius robustus in Canada is posted on the Species at Risk Public Registry link.

COSEWICwould like to acknowledge the COSEWICMarine Mammals Specialist Subcommittee for writing the status appraisal summary on the Grey Whale Eschrichtius robustus(Atlantic population) in Canada. This status appraisal summary was overseen and edited by Randall Reeves, Co–chair of the Marine Mammals Specialist Subcommittee.

For additional copies contact:

c/o Canadian Wildlife Service
Environment Canada
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0H3

Tel.: 819–953–3215
Fax: 819–994–3684

Également disponible en français sous le titre Sommaire du statut de l’espèce du COSEPACsur la baleine grise (Eschrichtius robustus) (population de l'Atlantique) au Canada.

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, 2010.
Catalogue No.CW69–14/2–2–2010E–PDF

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COSEWIC Assessment Summary

Assessment Summary – April 2009

Common name
Grey Whale – Atlantic population

Scientific name
Eschrichtius robustus


Reason for designation
* A reason for designation is not specified when a review of classification is conducted by means of a status appraisal summary.

Atlantic Ocean

Status history
Extirpated before the end of the 1800s. Designated Extirpated in April 1987. Status re–examined and confirmed in May 2000 and November 2009.

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COSEWIC Status Appraisal Summary

Eschrichtius robustus Atlantic population
Grey Whale (Atlantic population) - Baleine grise (Population de l'Atlantique)

Historic Range of Occurrence in Canada: Atlantic Ocean

Current COSEWIC Assessment:

Status category:

XT = Extirpated

Date of last assessment: May 2000

Reason for designation at last assessment: Extirpated apparently by human hunting, before the end of the nineteenth century.

Criteria applied at last assessment: None
If earlier version of criteria was applied, provide correspondence to current criteria: Not applicable.

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Recommendation: Update to the status report NOT required (species’ status category remains unchanged)


  • sufficient information to conclude there has been no change in status category
  • not enough additional information available to warrant a fully updated status report

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Evidence (indicate as applicable): The Atlantic Grey Whale is extirpated from the North Atlantic. There is no information to indicate that its status has changed since the last assessment.

Wildlife species:

Change in eligibility, taxonomy or designatable units:no


No new information has become available since the last assessment that would lead to a change in the eligibility or taxonomic status of the Atlantic Grey Whale population.


Change in Extent of Occurrence (EO): no

Change in Area of Occupancy (AO): no

Change in number of known or inferred current locations: no

Significant new survey information: no


The range of the extirpated Atlantic Grey Whale has not changed. What is known about its distribution is based primarily on sub–fossil specimens and historical records from the 16th and 17th centuries. The Grey Whale was once present along the east coast of North America, in the Baltic and North Seas, around Iceland and in the English Channel. Grey whales likely occurred in Canadian coastal waters including the Scotian Shelf, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Grand Banks and possibly Hudson Bay. Canadian waters were likely a fairly small proportion of the species’ total range in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Population Information:

Change in number of mature individuals: no

Change in total population trend: no

Change in severity of population fragmentation: no

Change in trend in area and/or quality of habitat: no

Significant new survey information: no


No new population information about the extirpated Atlantic Grey Whale has become available since the last assessment. The original size of the population(s) remains unknown.



Change in nature and/or severity of threats: no


There has been no change in threats to the extirpated Atlantic Grey Whale since the last assessment.



Change in effective protection: no


There has been no change in protection for the Extirpated Atlantic Grey Whale since the last assessment.


Rescue Effect:

Evidence of rescue effect: no


There is no immediate prospect of a rescue effect from the Pacific Grey Whale population, the range of which includes coastal waters of the NE Pacific Ocean and the eastern Beaufort Sea.


Quantitative Analysis:

Change in estimated probability of extirpation: no


No quantitative analysis available.


Summary and Additional Considerations:

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Marine Mammal Species Specialist Subcommittee involved in assessment:

Nathalie Patenaude
Garry Stenson
Andrew Trites
Jane Watson
Michael Kingsley
John Ford
Mike Hammill
Randall Reeves

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ATK Subcommittee


Daniel Banville, Chef équipe biodiversité, Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune du Québec, Direction de l’expertise sur la faune et ses habitats, 880, chemin Sainte–Foy, 2e étage, Québec QC G1S 4X4

Alain Blanchaud, Species at Risk Recovery Biologist, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada, 105 McGill Street, 7th Floor, Montreal QC H2Y 2E7

Sherman Boates, Manager, Biodiversity, Wildlife Division, Department of Natural Resources, Government of Nova Scotia, 136 Exhibition Street, Kentville NS B4N 4E5

Rosemary Curley, Program Manager, Protected Areas and Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation and Management Division, Environment, Energy and Forestry, P.O. Box 2000, Charlottetown, PE, C1A 7N8

Theresa Fowler, Scientific Authority, Species Assessment, Species Population and Standards Management, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada, 351 St. Joseph Boulevard, 4th Floor Place Vincent Massey Building, Gatineau QC J8Y 3Z5

Christopher Hotson, Legislation and Management Biologist, Department of Environment, Government of Nunavut, P.O. Box 209, Igloolik NU X0A 0L0

Simon Nadeau, Senior Advisor, Fish Population Science, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 200 Kent Street, Room 12S027, Mail Stop 12S032, Ottawa ON K1A 0E6

Dr. Patrick Nantel, Conservation Biologist, Species at Risk Program, Ecological Integrity Branch, Parks Canada, 25 Eddy St., 4th Fl., 25–4–S, Gatineau QC K1A 0M5

Isabelle Schmelzer, Senior Biologist, Terrestrial Ecology, Wildlife Division, Department of Environment & Conservation, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, P.O. Box 2007, 117 Riverside Drive, Corner Brook NL A2H 7S1

Maureen Toner, Biologist, Species at Risk Program, Fish and Wildlife Branch, Department of Natural Resources and Hugh John Flemming Forestry Centre, P.O.Box 6000, Fredericton, NB, E3B 5H1

Christie Whelan, Science Advisor, Fish Population Science, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 200 Kent Street, Room 12S042, Mail Stop 12S032, Ottawa ON K1A 0E6

Wildlife Management Boards:

Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, P.O. Box 1379, Iqaluit NU X0A 0H0

Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Coordinating Committee, Quebec Settlement Area, 383 rue St. Jacques, Suite C220, Mezzanine Level, Montreal QC H2Y 1N9

Torngat Joint Fisheries Board, 22 Waterloo Crescent, Mount Pearl NL, A1N 3X3

Sources of information:

COSEWIC2004. COSEWICassessment and update status report on the grey whale (Eastern North Pacific population) Eschrichtius robustus in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. Vii + 31 pp.

Reeves, R.R. and E. Mitchell (1987) COSEWICStatus report on the Grey Whale Eschrichtius robustus in Canada (35 pp.)

Author of Status Appraisal Summary: Marine Mammal Species Specialist Subcommittee. October, 2008.


The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) was created in 1977 as a result of a recommendation at the Federal–Provincial Wildlife Conference held in 1976. It arose from the need for a single, official, scientifically sound, national listing of wildlife species at risk. In 1978, COSEWIC designated its first species and produced its first list of Canadian species at risk. Species designated at meetings of the full committee are added to the list. On June 5, 2003, the Species at Risk Act (SARA) was proclaimed. SARA establishes COSEWIC as an advisory body ensuring that species will continue to be assessed under a rigorous and independent scientific process.


The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assesses the national status of wild species, subspecies, varieties, or other designatable units that are considered to be at risk in Canada. Designations are made on native species for the following taxonomic groups: mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, arthropods, molluscs, vascular plants, mosses, and lichens.

COSEWIC Membership

COSEWIC comprises members from each provincial and territorial government wildlife agency, four federal entities (Canadian Wildlife Service, Parks Canada Agency, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, 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 subcommittees and the Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge subcommittee. The Committee meets to consider status reports on candidate species.

Definitions (2010)

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 no longer existing in the wild in Canada, but occurring elsewhere.

Endangered (E)
A wildlife species facing imminent extirpation or extinction.

Threatened (T)
A wildlife species likely to become endangered if limiting factors are not reversed.

Special Concern (SC)*
A wildlife species that may become a threatened or an endangered species 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 species’ eligibility for assessment or (b) to permit an assessment of the species’ risk of extinction.

* Formerly described as “Vulnerable” from 1990 to 1999, or “Rare” prior to 1990.
**  Formerly described as “Not In Any Category”, or “No Designation Required.”
***  Formerly described as “Indeterminate” from 1994 to 1999 or “ISIBD” (insufficient scientific information on which to base a designation) prior to 1994. Definition of the (DD) category revised in 2006.

The Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada, provides full administrative and financial support to the COSEWIC Secretariat.