Binational Leading Conservation Organizations Formalize Partnership to Support Project Beluga

June 10, 2014

Shedd Aquarium working with GREMM and its scientific collaborators to support research and conservation of beluga whales in the St. Lawrence Seaway

Quebec City, Canada – Chicago’s John G. Shedd Aquarium, a world class leader in animal care and conservation research, and Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM), a Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to the scientific research of beluga whales, today signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) establishing a collaborative bi-national relationship to promote the health and survival of the species in the St. Lawrence Seaway. This threatened group is the southernmost population of belugas in the world and is under tremendous pressures from numerous environmental and anthropogenic stresses.

The memorandum of understanding enables the two organizations to work more closely together to share knowledge and expertise, utilize existing resources, collaborate on research and ultimately provide insight into the factors contributing to the decline of the population.

“Since the 1980s, the realization that belugas needed help sparked a number of important conservation actions that benefited the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes ecosystems and human communities. Those actions were based on sound scientific data, a lot of them from Project Beluga,” said Robert Michaud, president and scientific director of GREMM.

Currently, there are less than 900 beluga whales living in the St. Lawrence River near the mouth of the Saguenay River. Listed as Threatened, the population has been declining since the beginning of the 2000s, making the need for continued study imperative.

“We are proud to partner with GREMM and their long-established scientific program. Collaborative relationships fuel the actions needed to help protect these marine mammals and the waters in which they live,” said Roger Germann, Shedd’s executive vice president. “This MOU and partnership expands a scientific, education and governmental partnership focused on supporting research efforts which we hope will translate into actionable conservation efforts to help save this threatened population.”

The goal of Project Beluga is to better understand the St. Lawrence beluga population, through the scientific study of their behavioural ecology, habitat use, genetics, pathology and contaminant loads. This knowledge forms the basis of key conservation actions geared towards the recovery of the population as well as the protection of its environment, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence watershed. This research program has fuelled countless outreach programs and advocacy work to protect the beluga population.

Shedd’s animal care team has contributed its scientific expertise to protecting and preserving beluga whales in their care and in their native environment for decades. This new collaboration between Shedd and GREMM provides a commitment to help sustain this long term, science-based conservation program.

“We are very pleased to welcome the Shedd Aquarium from Chicago in Québec City today and to see their concern and commitment for the belugas. We share this concern and are committed to connecting cities and people all around the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence to help belugas, a strong symbol of our dependence on a healthy St. Lawrence,” said Régis Labeaume, Mayor of Québec City.

“La Sépaq is proud to host this very significant event. The beluga is a strong symbol of the beauty and fragility of our wildlife and natural habitats in Quebec. That is why the Aquarium du Québec and Parcs Québec have long contributed to research and conservation efforts for this threatened species,” said Raymond Desjardins, president and chief executive officer, Société des établissements de plein air du Québec (Sépaq).

According to GREMM, the continuation of this unique research program is needed to follow the evolution of the beluga population, evaluate the success of the measures put in place to reduce pollution in the St. Lawrence Seaway, and restore the habitat where they can survive.

“Shedd is a leader in marine mammal conservation and rescue and rehabilitation, working closely with federal and state governments to save the lives of thousands of animals – whales, dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, otters, seals, and sea lions – releasing them back into their native habitats,” said Tim Binder, Shedd’s vice president of collections. “Our science-based education programs teach people respect for animals, and inspire them to take action to help protect marine mammals and their environments.”

Project Beluga scientific collaborators also include the St. Lawrence National Institute of Ecotoxicology, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the Université de Montréal, the Department of Biology of Saint Mary’s University, the Trent University Wildlife Forensic DNA Laboratory, the Ocean Pollution Research Program of the Vancouver Aquarium and the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network. Project Beluga is pursued with the support and collaboration of the Canadian Federal Government through the work of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada’s scientists. The Fondation de la faune du Québec and Cossette also provide support for the long term sustainability of Project Beluga.

The John G. Shedd Aquarium, a nonprofit organization in Chicago dedicated to public education and conservation, is among one of the world’s largest indoor aquariums. The facility houses over 32,000 aquatic animals representing 1,500 species. As a nationally-recognized leader in rescue and rehabilitation, the aquarium has helped animals in need for decades. Shedd is committed to a number of projects designed to preserve threatened or endangered aquatic species. Visit

Founded in 1985 and based in Tadoussac, Quebec, the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM) is a non-profit organization dedicated to scientific research on the whales of the St. Lawrence and to education for the conservation of the marine environment.

NOTE: High resolution photos and videosare available for download:

Photo and video credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/GREMM

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