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Legal listing consultation workbook for Sowerby’s beaked whale

Mesoplodon bidens

(Special Concern)

Sowerby’s beaked whale

Aussi disponible en français

Addition of species to the Species at Risk Act

Introductory Information

Species at Risk and You

Scientists estimate that the world’s species are becoming extinct at a rate that is as much as 10,000 times higher than it should naturally be. It’s a staggering statistic and a source of concern for all humans. Although many Canadians understand that species have intrinsic worth, sometimes we forget why the disappearance of a species matters. At the most basic level, species diversity, often referred to as “biodiversity,” is crucial to ensure that life continues on earth. From a human standpoint, biodiversity also supports people’s livelihoods, enables sustainable development and encourages cooperation among nations.

In 2003, the Government of Canada took a major step toward protecting species at risk and their habitats in Canada when it proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA). SARA was designed as a key tool for the conservation and protection of biodiversity in Canada. It provides a framework for action across the country to ensure the survival and recovery of wildlife species at risk and the protection of our natural heritage. The law protects those plants and animals that are included on the “List of Wildlife Species at Risk,” sometimes referred to as “Schedule 1” or the “SARA List.”

(For more information on SARA, visit the SARA Public Registry at www.sararegistry.gc.ca)

In order to determine which species should be “listed,” or added to the SARA list of protected species, the Government of Canada consults the general public, with special emphasis on those groups either directly involved with or particularly interested in the species under review. The government makes its decision only after carefully considering the outcome of consultations as well as the potential social and economic implications of listing the species. This consultation workbook is part of the Government’s effort to obtain feedback on whether or not Sowerby’s beaked whale should be added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk.

Your thoughts on this issue are important and play a crucial role in the listing process. They will be carefully reviewed and considered. Please answer all of the questions in this book to the best of your ability. If you have additional comments, space has been provided for them as well.  To ensure that your responses are considered, please return your completed workbook or any other comments you may have to the address on page 8 by December 14, 2007. Thank you for your help.

For More Information on Species at Risk in Canada





Terms You Should Know

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assigns a “status” to each species it considers. The status indicates the degree to which a species is at risk. Considered here are:

Extirpated: A species that no longer exists in the wild in Canada, but exists elsewhere in the world

Endangered: A species facing imminent extinction or extirpation

Threatened: A species that is likely to become endangered if certain factors affecting it are not addressed

Special Concern: A species with biological characteristics that make it particularly vulnerable to human activity or certain natural phenomena

Other Information You Should Know

How is a Species Listed?

  • The species is assessed and assigned a status by the COSEWIC. This committee is comprised of specialists working in a variety of relevant fields, such as biology, ecology , Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge, and community ecological knowledge. They come from government, universities, aboriginal organizations, and non-governmental organizations, and they are appointed according to their expertise. However they do not represent the agency, group or region from which they are drawn, but must provide impartial scientific recommendations about the species they are considering.
  • The COSEWIC provides the status report to the Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council, which is comprised of provincial and territorial ministers responsible for the conservation and management of wildlife, in addition to the federal ministers responsible for the administration of SARA (the Minister of the Environment, and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans). A copy is also posted on the SARA Public Registry.
  • The Minster of the Environment indicates how he or she will respond to a COSEWIC assessment in a “Response Statement”. This Response Statement indicates the nature and timing of consultations and is posted on the SARA Public Registry within 90 days of receiving the COSEWIC Assessment.
  • Consultations are undertaken by the lead federal departments, Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), and the information brought forward is analyzed.
  • Based on advice from the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the Minister of the Environment must provide the Governor in Council (the Governor General of Canada acting on the advice of Cabinet) with a recommendation to add or not add the species to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. In order to make his or her decision, the Minister will take into consideration the COSEWIC’s scientific assessment of the species, the information provided by Canadians obtained through initiatives like this consultation workbook, and the anticipated socio-economic impacts of adding the species to the SARA List. The Minister can offer three possible responses to the COSEWIC assessment.
    • Accept the COSEWIC assessment and, as it advises, either add the species, reclassify it, or remove it from the SARA List
    • Determine that the species should not be added to the SARA List
    • Determine that there is insufficient information to make a decision, and refer the species back to COSEWIC for further consideration

How Does SARA Protect a Species?

Immediately upon a species being added to the SARA List as extirpated, endangered, or threatened, it receives protection under SARA. It is then an offence to:

  • kill, harm, harass, capture or take an individual of these listed species
  • possess, collect, buy, sell or trade an individual, part or derivative of these listed species
  • damage or destroy the residence of one or more individuals of these listed species

The only exceptions to these rules occur when the government issues specific authorizations for: scientific research about the conservation of the species done by a qualified person; an activity that benefits the species or enhances its chances of survival in the wild; or an activity whose effect on the listed species is incidental. In all cases, the activity must not jeopardize survival or recovery.

For species listed as special concern, prohibitions do not apply.

What Happens Next?

After a species is listed, the recovery process begins in an effort to reduce the causes of a species’ decline and to improve the status of the species.   There are two parts to the process for extirpated, endangered or threatened species: a recovery strategy, which identifies threats to the species and describes recovery objectives, and an action plan, which details the activities that must be carried out to promote the species’ recovery.

For species of Special Concern, management plans will be prepared and made available on the Public Registry within three years of their addition to the SARA list, allowing for public review and comment.  Management plans will include appropriate conservation measures for the species and for its habitat.

All of these documents are developed through extensive consultation with scientists, community members, aboriginal groups and community stakeholders. Then, the strategies and plans are published in the SARA Public Registry, and the public has 60 days to comment on them. Five years after the plans come into effect, the responsible government minister must report on their implementation and the progress that has been made in meeting the objectives they outlined.

Species Specific Information

Sowerby’s beaked whale

Sowerby’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon bidens) is a medium-sized whale that can grow to a maximum length of 5.5m.  They are dark grey and have a small head with a long, narrow beak or “rostrum” (longer and narrower than other beaked whales found in the same geographic area). They have a small triangular dorsal fin approximately 2/3’s of the way back from the beak. Their tail flukes generally have no center notch, and they have relatively long pectoral fins. 

Sowerby’s beaked whales are only found in the North Atlantic Ocean. Sightings or strandings in the northwestern Atlantic are rare but have been recorded from Notre Dame Bay in Newfoundland, to Nova Scotia and into the northeastern United States.  While their distribution is not well known, they appear to prefer deeper offshore waters so it is likely that their range extends beyond the Canadian 200 mile “Exclusive Economic Zone”. There is no information about seasonal movements within their range.

Sowerby’s beaked whales are typically found in deep waters such as the continental shelf edge and continental slopes, and are only rarely seen in coastal waters.  They have been observed at depths greater than 1500m.

Although age of maturity is unknown, females greater than 4.83 m have been found to be sexually mature and males smaller than 5.0 m in length are considered immature.

Almost all live sightings of this species in Canadian waters have been groups of three to ten animals, however little is known on their social structures. 

The bulk of the diet of Sowerby’s beaked whale is deepwater fish and squid.

No estimate of population size within Canadian waters exists.  The rarity of sightings suggests that these whales are not common, but this may reflect the minimal survey effort in deepwater areas and the difficulty of distinguishing Sowerby’s from other species of beaked whale.

COSEWIC assessment

COSEWIC provides the following rationale for designating Sowerby’s beaked whale as special concern (SC):

Little is known about the biology, distribution, and abundance of this species. However, it belongs to a family of whales (Ziphiidae) in which acute exposure to intense sounds (especially from military sonar, but also from seismic operations) has led to serious injury and mortality. Seismic operations are widespread in the habitat of this species off Canada; mid- and low-frequency sonars may be used in eastern Canadian waters. Although there is no direct evidence that such sound sources have affected Sowerby’s beaked whales, there is good evidence for effects on congeneric and other related species and thus there is reasonable cause for concern about the potential effects on Sowerby’s beaked whales.

Threats to Sowerby’s beaked whale:

The COSEWIC status report identifies several potential threats to this species.

Acoustic pollution

There is evidence that beaked whales are vulnerable to human-created, under-water ‘noise pollution’, such as ship propellers, drilling, and explosions.

Some mass strandings of beaked whales have been associated with high energy, mid-frequency military sonar while behavioural and distribution changes have been observed in some whale species after seismic surveys (the use of compressed air guns to map the ocean floor).  Seismic activities associated with oil and gas exploration off the coast of Atlantic Canada may therefore have an adverse effect on Sowerby’s beaked whale, although the likelihood, nature and severity of such an effect is poorly understood.

Entanglement in fishing gear

Since the drift gillnet fishery was closed in the U.S. in 1999 no beaked whales have been recorded as by-catch off the U.S. east coast.  However, there have been recorded cases of beaked whales entangled in longline-type gear, so it is possible that Sowerby’s beaked whales may be vulnerable to entanglement.

Chemical pollution

Many whale species accumulate toxins, such as arsenic and mercury, in their blubber.  No studies have been done on the health effects of the toxin build-up in Sowerby’s beaked whales.

Collision with ships

A Sowerby’s beaked whale was found stranded on Sable Island with significant injuries consistent with a ship strike. This suggests that Sowerby’s beaked whales are sometimes hit by vessels.

Protecting Sowerby’s beaked whale

The Marine Mammal Regulations (SOR 93-56) of the Fisheries Act prohibits the killing or disturbance of marine mammals, except where a licence has been issued to fish for a particular species. Currently there are no licences issued to fish for Sowerby’s beaked whales in Canadian waters.

The Fisheries Act prohibits the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat, including marine mammal habitat, except where authorized by the minister.

In addition, the Government of Canada has designated the Gully (a large deep water canyon off the coast of Nova Scotia where Sowerby’s beaked whales have been sighted) as a Marine Protected Area (MPA) under the Oceans Act.  Regulations for this MPA “prohibit the disturbance, damage, destruction or removal of any living marine organism or any part of its habitat within the MPA”.

Some oil and gas operators have also instituted their own “Codes of Practice” for the Gully in order to minimize operational impacts on whales.

Potential Impacts on Stakeholders

If added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk, activities that affect the Sowerby’s beaked whale or its habitat may be protected by stricter regulations. While automatic prohibitions do not apply to species of special concern under SARA, a SARA Management Plan will be required and a range of management measures may be implemented.

These measures may lead to a variety of impacts on stakeholders, including additional costs.  The following list is not exhaustive; please use this consultation workbook as an opportunity to list omissions.


Management strategies that could affect Aboriginal people fishing for commercial species in areas inhabited by Sowerby’s beaked whale may be considered. However, given the deepwater habitat of this whale, management strategies would be unlikely to affect Aboriginal people fishing for food, social, and ceremonial purposes.

Fishing Industry

If an activity is identified to be a concern for the survival and recovery of a listed species, management measures may be taken to address the concern.  These measures could include increased observer coverage in certain areas, closed areas, gear modifications, or other activities developed in collaboration with industry that will help prevent and minimize interactions and entanglements.

Eco-tourism/Whale watching

Given the offshore habitat of this species, its deep-diving tendencies, and the rarity of sightings, it is unlikely that conservation activities would have an impact on this industry.

Research Activity

Those wishing to carry out research on this species or in areas of their habitat may be required to comply with stricter guidelines.  This may limit the type and/or duration of research permitted on Sowerby’s beaked whale and may lengthen the preparation time required for planning research projects. 

Military Operations

Maritime Forces Atlantic may be asked to prepare guidelines for naval exercises in areas frequented by Sowerby’s beaked whale. They may be asked to refrain from specific types of exercises (e.g. sonar, underwater explosions) in these areas. As identified in SARA, these requirements would be waived in emergencies or if national security were affected.

Oil and Gas Industry

Certain oil and gas industry activities have been identified as potential threats. The management plan could identify a range of operational requirements and guidelines which may include time and area exclusions, requirements for marine mammal observers, and other measures deemed appropriate.   

Marine Transport

The marine transport industry and regulators may be asked to develop guidelines for vessel traffic in areas where interactions with Sowerby’s beaked whale may be a concern.  The industry may be asked to monitor and report on their activities in these areas.

Marine Activities under CEAA

All proposed marine activities that fall under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) will need to identify any adverse effects on any SARA listed species, and put in place measures to lessen and monitor those effects should the activity proceed.


COSEWIC 2006 . COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Sowerby’s beaked whale Mesoplodon bidens in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. vi + 20 pp.


The Gully Marine Protected Area Regulations, Canada Gazette Vol. 138, No. 10 (SOR/2004-112) May, 2004

Consultation Workbook Survey – Sowerby’s beaked whale

The government's decision on whether or not to list a species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) will be based on a full description and understanding of the costs and benefits of the impacts of protection and recovery on individuals, organizations, Aboriginal groups, industries, and Canadian society in general.

This survey form can be used to provide your opinions about listing Sowerby’s beaked whale under the SARA. Comments are welcome from individuals of all backgrounds, whether you are engaged in activities that may be affected by Sowerby’s beaked whale conservation efforts or are a citizen with an interest in this species.

You should read the consultation workbook before completing these questions.

About the Consultation Workbook Survey

The consultation workbook survey asks you to answer a series of questions that require reflection about your views relating to the conservation and recovery of Sowerby’s beaked whale. There are a variety of question formats in this survey. There are also opportunities for personal responses to further explain your views. If you would like to keep the introductory sections of this workbook, please feel free to detach this section and return only the survey.

Please return your workbook by December 14 , 2007, to:

Maritimes Region

Species at Risk Coordination Office

Bedford Institute of Oceanography

Box 1006

1 Challenger Drive

Dartmouth, N.S.  B2Y 4A2

Email: xmarsara@mar.dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Toll free: 866-891-0771

You can also visit http://www.sararegistry.gc.cato download an electronic version of this survey and /or record your comments.

The information that you provide is important. We very much appreciate the time and effort you take to complete this survey.

Your opinion about the potential direct or indirect costs of Sowerby’s beaked whale conservation and management

Please choose an option that reflects your rating of the likely economic impacts (direct and indirect) of Sowerby’s beaked whale conservation and management to each of the following groups.

 -NegligibleSomewhat LowModerateSomewhat HighVery HighI have no opinion on this factor
Costs to military - - - - - -
Costs to scientific researchers - - - - - -
Costs to the fishing industry - - - - - -
Costs to the oil and gas industry - - - - - -
Costs to my personal household - - - - - -
Costs to commercial shipping - - - - - -
Other, please specify; - - - - - -

Do you have any further comments regarding the potential economic impacts (direct or indirect) of conservation and management of Sowerby’s beaked whale?

Your opinion about the potential benefits of Sowerby’s beaked whale conservation and management to Canadian society

Please choose an option that reflects your rating of the potential benefits (economic or social) of Sowerby’s beaked whale conservation and management to each of the following groups.

 -NegligibleSomewhat LowModerateSomewhat HighVery HighI have no opinion on this factor
Benefits to maritime coastal communities - - - - - -
Benefits to the tourism industry - - - - - -
Benefits to Canadian society as a whole - - - - - -
Benefits to Aboriginal groups - - - - - -
Benefits to the scientific community - - - - - -
Other, please specify; - - - - - -

Do you have any further comments regarding the potential benefits (economic or social) of the conservation and management of Sowerby’s beaked whale?

Please choose an option that reflects your level of agreement or disagreement with the following statements.

 -Strongly DisagreeSomewhat DisagreeNeither Agree Nor DisagreeSomewhat AgreeStrongly AgreeI have no opinion on this factor
I think that Sowerby’s beaked whales are valuable because they play an important role in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems. - - - - - -
I think that Sowerby’s beaked whales will be valuable to future generations. - - - - - -
I believe that Sowerby’s beaked whale needs special protection or care from human interactions and/or activities.      
I am prepared to suffer a loss of revenue to protect Sowerby’s beaked whale.      
I believe it is important for the Government of Canada to allocate federal funding to support the recovery of Sowerby’s beaked whale.      
I think that many people in Canada value Sowerby’s beaked whales even though they may never personally see one. - - - - - -
Other, please specify; - - - - - -

Comments about the proposed listing status of Sowerby’s beaked whale

Have you read the COSEWIC status reports for this species? - -

Please choose an option that reflects your level of support for the Government of Canada listing Sowerby’s beaked whale as “special concern” on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act.

I Strongly Disagree with listing -
I Somewhat Disagree with listing -
I Neither Agree nor Disagree with listing -
I Somewhat Agree with listing -
I Strongly Agree with listing -

General Questions

1. Could you please tell us why you agree or disagree with listing Sowerby’s beaked whale as “special concern” on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act?

2.  a) If a legal listing will affect your activities, do you see these effects as a cost or benefit to you? In what way? Please consider social costs and benefits as well as economic costs and benefits.

2 b).  If you see these effects as a cost, are there steps that your sector could take to reduce these costs? If so, please explain.

3.  In the event that this species is listed, how can you as an individual, or your industry or organization as a group, participate in the conservation of the species? Give examples of particular activities, if you can.

4.  Do you think that conservation and management of Sowerby’s beaked whale can be achieved without adding this species to schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act? Please explain.

Background information about you

What is Your Age Category?
< 20 Years -
20-29 Years -
30-39 Years -
40-49 Years -
50-59 Years -
60-69 Years -
> 70 Years -


What is Your Gender?
Female -
Male -


In which sector are you employed?
Retired -
Full-Time Homemaker -
Student -
Commercial Fishing/Processing -
Farming -
Forestry -
Oil and Gas -
Professional Services -
Private Sector – Other -
Academic -
Federal Government -
Provincial Government -
Municipal Government -
Non-Governmental Organization -
I am Between Jobs -
I am Employed in another Field -


Where do you live?
Nova Scotia -
New Brunswick -
Prince Edward Island -
Newfoundland and Labrador -
Quebec -
Ontario -
Western Canada or Territories 
Outside Canada but I am a Canadian Citizen or Permanent Resident 
Outside Canada - I am not a Canadian Citizen or Permanent Resident -

If you are directly involved in fishing activities, in what NAFO areas do you fish

3OP -
4R -
4S -
4T -
4VW -
4X/5Y -
5Z -
2GHJ -

If you are completing this workbook as a representative of an organization, please indicate your name, the name of your organization and a contact address.

You've now finished the survey – thank you very much for your help