Every year the third Friday of May is dedicated to learning about and taking action to protect threatened and endangered species. A Living Planet Report found that populations of at-risk species have declined 59% since 1970, and there are currently over 600 at risk plant and animal species in Canada today.
Status Listing Meanings
Extinct – No longer exists
Extirpated – No longer exists in Canada, but may in other places
Endangered – Facing imminent extinction or extirpation
Threatened – Likely to become endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to extinction.
Special concern – May become threatened or endangered because of biological characteristics and identified threats.
There are many reasons that a species can become threatened. Urbanization and construction can wipe out habitats or leave them fragmented and contaminated. Climate change and rising temperatures make it difficult for some species to find food or migrate, and invasive species brought over by human activity can affect local species chances of survival. Human trapping and hunting of certain species has also drastically lowered population numbers.
Threatened and Endangered Ocean Species
Sea Otters were heavily hunted on the Pacific Coast during the late 1700’s and 1800’s for their pelts. Today, oil spills pose the greatest threat to Sea Otters due to the proximity of the Otters to major tanking routes, and how easily an Otter can become hypothermic if their fur becomes soaked in oil. While the Sea Otter remains “endangered” worldwide, efforts to save the Canadian population of Sea Otters have been successful, and their status was deemed as a “special concern” in 2007.
Leatherback Sea Turtle
Leatherback Sea Turtles are the largest reptile in the world. They have lost 70% of their population in the last 15 years, and in 2003 they were declared endangered in Canada. Accidentally getting tangled in fishing gear, hunting turtles, collecting their eggs for consumption, as well as climate change, vessel traffic, ocean pollution, and loss of nesting beaches, are all contributing threats to the Leatherback species.
Steller Sea Lion
Steller Sea Lions are the biggest seals in the world, weighing up to 2000lbs. The western population has been declining rapidly, from an estimated population of 227,000 in 1960, to 45,000 in 2000. It has been said that the depletion of food resources caused by commercial fisheries, as well as deliberate killing by fish farmers is the reason for the declining population.
While not officially endangered, sockeye returns have been declining throughout BC for the last 70 years. Salmon habitats are under distress from Dams that block their way upstream, marine export terminals, mining and forestry industries. Bears and wolves rely on salmon as their food source, and the loss of any individual spawning populations would be devastating to its biological community.
Southern resident killer whales were designated endangered in 2003, and today there are only 72 remaining. An orca calf born in January 2019 was the first successful birth in 3 years. Lowered salmon population, the Orca’s main source of food, has been the blame to the declining Orca numbers, but noise pollution from ships is also considered a factor.
Save The Whales!
Killer Whales are not the only Whales that are in danger! Blue Whales, Beluga Whales, Bowhead Whales and North Atlantic Right Whales are also endangered. The commercial whaling era killed millions of whales to create lamp oil, lubricants, cosmetics and meals, and by the 1880’s North Atlantic Right Whales had been hunted to near extinction. Today, only about 400 North Atlantic Right Whales remain, and they are the most endangered of the whale species.
The Blue Whale and the Bowhead Whale were deemed endangered in 1970, and the Beluga Whale has been protected in Canada since 1979, and endangered since 2008. Traps and entanglements kill Whales every day while whaling continues to be legal in Iceland, Norway, Japan, and the Faroe Islands. Other concerns include the growing global warming issues, since rising temperatures could effect Whales food sources, health, and habitat, especially if they normally thrive in Arctic waters. Vessel noise from ships can make it difficult for whales to communicate and navigate using their echo location, and ships travelling through feeding areas have even struck and killed whales. Scientists today have discovered new cancer cells and diseases in autopsies of certain Whales, proof that ocean pollution has been leading to an increase of disease and sickness to the animals who call the ocean home.
Threatened and Endangered Land Wildlife
There are many sub species of Caribou, and in 2019 six of the sub species were listed as endangered, three as threatened, and two as special concern. Caribou numbers are declining due to climate change and global warming. Warmer temperatures allow Caribou predators like wolves, cougars and coyotes, to live further north and eat through the Caribou population. Cariboo also migrate by travelling across ice, but climate change has impacted Artic ice melts and freezes.
The Canadian Lynx are very vulnerable to global warming since they depend on cold temperatures and snow to maintain an advantage over predators. As global warming continues, Lynx move further isolating themselves, reducing reproduction numbers. Over trapping and habitat loss or fragmentation is another threat to their population. The Canadian Lynx has been included in the Endangered Species Act since March 2000.
Grizzle population has declined dramatically since European settlement, and it is estimated that BC has 58% of Canada’s Grizzly Bear population. In 2010, Grizzly Bears were classified as Extirpated in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and in 2012 they were deemed as a Special Concern in Western Canada. Their primary threats are habitat loss and fragmentation, but human incurred deaths such as hunting, poaching, and collisions with motor vehicles are also very common.
Burrowing owls can be found in the grass prairies of Alberta and Saskatchewan, but development of the land has been negatively impacting the burring owl habitat and population. The owls depend on prairie dogs or badgers to dig holes they can later use for nests, so any decrease in these species populations would significantly impact the owls. In 2015, Canada’s burring owl population was estimated at 270 individuals, and they have been labeled as an endangered species ever since.
Each fall, Monarch’s set out on the worlds longest insect migration. They are vital for biodiversity and pollination. Loss of native plants is their main threat as they depend on them as a food source. One of these plants includes Milkweed, a poisonous plant that by ingesting, also makes the butterfly itself poisonous. Western Monarch’s population has declined 99% since the 1980’s, causes include climate change affecting their migration path, pesticides, and habitat loss. The Monarch is listed as a special concern, but was recommended to be changed to endangered in December 2016.
Some Good News…
Canada has taken action to do its part to help at risk species, beginning in 1992 when the country was the first industrialized nation to sign the Convention on Biological Diversity, confirming the commitment to conserve biodiversity and any at risk species.
In 1996, the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA) was born. This act helped to protect foreign and Canadian species from illegal trade activity, as well as protect Canada’s ecosystems by prohibiting the introduction of invasive species.
And finally, in 2002, the Species At Risk Act (SARA) was passed by the Canadian Government. It requires federal organizations to draw up recovery strategies for listed species, and protects at risk species and their natural habitats.
Efforts to save certain threatened species have been successful! The Peregrine Falcon, which was listed as endangered in 1978, was moved into a lower risk category after the Canadian ban on DDT, a type of pesticide that was contributing to the decline in the species population. Over 1,550 Peregrine Falcons were raised in captivity and released into the wild to help support their population. The Eastern Bluebird species were able to recover, with the help of humans putting out nesting boxes for them. In 2003, the International Maritime Organization even changed shipping lanes so ships would no longer be travelling through North Atlantic right whale habitat.