Assessing historical & emerging atmospheric contaminants affecting endangered whale habitats

Date: November 17, 2023 12:00 pm (ET)


  • Dr. Hayley Hung
    Environment and Climate Change Canada

Dr. Hayley Hung, Research Scientist, Air Quality Research Division, Environment and Climate Change Canada

Abstract: In 2018, the Government of Canada launched a 5-year Whales Initiative with the aim to protect and support the recovery of Canada’s endangered whale populations.  Contaminants are known as major threats to the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) in the Salish Sea, British Columbia (BC); and the St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga (SLEB) in Quebec (QC). The Air Quality Processes Research Section (ARQP) of Environment and Climate Change Canada led a research team in collaborations with academic partners to investigate point- and non-point sources and to assess regional transport of atmospheric contaminants affecting the two whale habitats. Networks of passive air and water samplers, together with active air and precipitation samplers, were deployed in the Salish Sea and St. Lawrence Estuary regions, including some of Canada’s largest cities. Over 380 samples of air, water and precipitation were collected across coastal regions of Southern Canada from 2019 to 2022, and each sample was analysed for 300+ contaminants of potential concern. Here, we report the first results from these extensive networks which helped to identify areas with similar chemical signatures and, therefore, presumably with similar contaminant sources. We will also take a closer look at emerging chemicals of concern, including naturally occurring halomethoxybenzenes (HMBs) with properties similar to persistent organic pollutants (POPs); emerging flame retardants, unintentionally emitted PCBs, UV filters and benzotriazole UV stabilizers (BT-UVs) measured in the two regions.