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Once again, cigarette butts have topped the list of the most common litter items found on Canadian shorelines.

Cigarette butts found during a 2018 Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. © Pete Ewins

According to the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup 2018 report, volunteers around the country picked up 560,432 butts in the program’s 25th year. In urban areas such as Vancouver and Victoria, cigarettes can make up over 50 per cent of the litter found on shorelines. The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is presented by Loblaw Companies Limited and Coca-Cola Ltd.

The 12 most common items (ranked according to numbers) found along shorelines Here’s how these beach butts and microplastics are hurting wildlife:

Cigarette butts are doing more than wrecking our day at the beach. Yes, no one likes to find them as they comb their hands through the sand during a day at the beach, but it seems that somewhere along the line, we’ve forgotten that cigarettes are trash. And while they may seem harmless because they’re small and the filters look like cotton, they’re actually made of a fibrous plastic that’s laced with chemicals like nicotine, formaldehyde, cadmium and tar (among many, many others). These chemicals can leach out into our waterways, and since the filters are not biodegradable, they can cause all sorts of problems.

Birds and fish can swallow cigarette butts whole. And if they remain in the water, they’ll eventually break down into microplastics, which can be consumed by smaller organisms and even make it back into drinking water. They cause problems out of the water too. We share our shorelines with many wildlife species, including endangered species like the piping plover, and as they continue to face increasing pressures from habitat loss and disturbance, they need us to help keep their habitats litter-free.

Piping Plover on the beach (c) bookguy/istock photo Here’s what you can do to stop plastic pollution:

Clearly cigarette butts and other plastic waste belong in the trash. There are a few things you can do to keep our shorelines clean. If your city has them, use the special receptacles designed for butt disposal. Otherwise, make sure they’re completely extinguished and cooled, and place them in the regular trash. Finally, encourage those around you to do the same.

And until we kick this dirty habit, you can help by participating in (or leading) a Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup event near you. It’s one of the largest direct-action conservation programs in the country and it’s allowed Canadians to make some real changes in their communities. In the 25 years that the program has been running more than 850,000 volunteers have picked up almost 1.8 million kilograms of litter along nearly 40,000 kilometres of shoreline—that’s the same distance you’d travel if you circled every Great Lake (and its islands) more than twice!

And finally, if we can go the distance to pick up trash, let’s set our sights higher—let’s keep it off our shores to begin with.

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Endangered North Atlantic right whales gather to feed. The remaining whales will directly benefit from this announcement. © PCCS/PCCS-NOAA under permit 633-1763

Wildlife that roam the most fragile corners of Canada’s oceans will now have access to safe havens free from harmful human activities. 

The government announced that oil and gas development is officially banned in marine protected areas (MPAs). That’s a huge win, but the protections go further. Mining, bottom trawling and dumping — all of which are damaging to ecosystems — will not be permitted in federally protected ocean areas. And it was a long time coming.   

Although WWF-Canada championed stronger protections as far back as the 1990s, there was greater urgency in 2017 when we heard the proposed Laurentian Channel marine protected area would remain open to oil and gas development. In response, we launched a public campaign asking Canadians to email our government on behalf of wildlife, and thousands of you did just that.  

“Over the last couple of years, concerned citizens sent thousands of emails to the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which is now resulting in stronger protections for Canada’s wildlife,” says Megan Leslie, WWF-Canada president and CEO. “This is proof that when we speak up for wildlife, we can make a difference.”

Thanks to our dedicated supporters who made their voice heard, nearly 11,600 sq. km of the Atlantic Ocean, known as the Laurentian Channel, will help conserve endangered North Atlantic right whales and leatherback sea turtles, as well as sea pen corals, porbeagle sharks and black dogfish.

The Gully, a marine protected area off the coast of Nova Scotia, is a critical habitat for Northern Bottlenose whales. © Hal WHITEHEAD / WWF-Canada 

However, not all marine areas under protection will prohibit oil & gas activities. There are other sites known as marine refuges and provincial MPAs that remain vulnerable to harmful human activities. We want to ensure that these areas that were chosen because of their ecological importance will be granted the same high standards of protection that the The Gully or Laurentian Channel have been afforded.  

“As climate change continues to alter our oceans, it will be critically important that Canada applies minimum standards for all protected ocean areas,” said Sigrid Kuehnemund, WWF-Canada vice-president of ocean conservation 

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Your data can make a difference.

WWF-Canada’s unprecedented 2017 Living Planet Report Canada found that half of the country’s monitored wildlife species were in decline. These findings were based on more than 400 sources of data on population trends, including peer-reviewed scientific literature, long-term government monitoring such as trawl surveys and bird indices, along with publicly accessible online databases.  

Now, we’re updating the report. But to do this, we need new data. That’s where you come in.

We’re asking academics, government scientists and biologists to dig deep into their files to share the missing data that could help us better understand the state of wildlife in Canada and track our progress in reversing its decline.

Milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum), Sandbanks Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada.

We’re looking to both update trends for the species in our database and add new data on those species missing from the database and from differing regions. Some of the critical data gaps we need to fill are for freshwater fish, Arctic species, amphibians and reptiles and cetaceans.

Here’s how you can help:

While we are accepting any data that is not currently in the LPI Data Portal, we are especially focused on gathering data from more recent years (2010-2019), or for vertebrates that are not currently represented within our 2017 species list.

Criteria for the inclusion of species population data in the index follow the methods of previous Living Planet Reports, as developed by the Zoological Society of London: 

  • Populations must be consistently monitored in the same location, using the same method over time, for a minimum of two years between 1970 and 2019. If the method of data collection changed between years, a correction factor could be applied. Alternatively, data could be entered separately, with one data entry for each method used.
  • Data must be numerical, such as a population count, or a reliable population-size proxy, including population estimates, spawning stock biomass, catch-per-unit effort or density.
  • Population data must be available for at least two years in the period between 1970 and 2019.
  • Data sources must be referenced and traceable.
  • Species must be native to the country.

Note that we are looking for native vertebrate population data only. Manipulated experiments will not be included, as we are seeking trends in wild species abundance. 

If your data is not already included in the LPI Data Portal, you can submit your critical contribution to Jessica Currie (jcurrie@wwfcanada.org) using the data template outlined here.

Worried about who may see and use your sensitive species data? Fear not. Simply note if you would like to keep your data confidential. Otherwise, we will upload all records to the LPI Data Portal so that researchers from around the globe can use this important information. 

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To protect wildlife, we must protect their homes. But our new Wildlife Protection Assessment reveals Canada does not protect the areas that at-risk species need most.

In the face of widespread wildlife loss in Canada, our new nation-wide assessment maps historical gaps in essential wildlife habitat protection – for devastated caribou populations in the north and in Newfoundland and Labrador, at-risk bats and snakes in B.C., swift fox in the Prairies, at-risk turtles in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and piping plovers in Prince Edward Island. More than that, this assessment maps opportunities to protect areas that benefit wildlife while sequestering and storing carbon to slow climate change.

Barren-ground caribou (c) Alexandre Paiement

Here’s what we found:

  • 84 per cent of habitats with high concentrations of at-risk species are either inadequately or completely unprotected.
  • 77 per cent of habitats with high densities of soil carbon are inadequately or not at all protected, and
  • 74 per cent of habitats with high densities of forest biomass are inadequately or not at all protected.

Widespread habitat fragmentation and loss is a double-whammy for wildlife since vital, natural spaces like forests, peat bogs and soils provide both habitat and an essential service: These natural areas store carbon and if protected, can help keep the climate in balance.

Aerial view of Taiga forest and wetlands, Mackenzie river delta, Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada.

This presents incredible opportunities for reducing wildlife loss and limiting climate change at the same time.

Given the state of wildlife loss in Canada, and the fact Canada is warming at twice the global rate, we need to ask even more of our protected areas. It’s essential we prioritize protection in the spaces wildlife need, and in those areas that will provide nature-based solutions to help us reach our climate change goals.

A female Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) with her cubs in the Khutze Estuary, Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada

Though we recognize the valuable role protected areas play in providing important social and cultural benefits, our research focused on assessing Canada’s protected area network with respect to wildlife habitat and climate change. Through that particular lens, we were able to identify national priority hotspots for protection as revealed by our national assessment, and regional hotspots through the provincial and territorial assessments.

As Canada moves to reach international terrestrial and inland waters protected area targets, let’s not focus just on more space. Let’s protect wildlife and fight climate change at the same time.

Let’s put protected areas in the right place.

Explore the assessment and see how protected areas are serving wildlife where you live: www.wwf.ca/habitatcrisis

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“Narwhals are extremely timid and rarely filmed underwater.”
 – David Attenborough, host, Our Planet.

Filming nature and wildlife is no easy feat, only made possible by multiple production teams, researchers and local experts coming together. And that’s precisely what was required to bring Netflix’s Our Planet to your screens. The new eight-part docuseries took four years to complete, and through it all, WWF was there to advise on the science. As WWF-Canada’s Arctic species specialist, I helped make connections between the filmmakers and locals who advised about whales roaming northern waters. 

This, in part, resulted in this breathtaking scene.

Our Planet | Narwhals | Clip | Netflix - YouTube

At the time, the production team was interested in filming narwhals, belugas and bowhead whales — the main marine mammals found in the Canadian Arctic. But in the end, only the tusked whale made the cut. 

In 2016, Our Planet researcher Olly Scholey embarked on a week-long trip to Nunavut to help get the production crew a few steps closer to capturing narwhal on film.  As a resident of Nunavut’s capital, Iqaluit, and a wildlife expert, I was thrilled to guide him through the icy terrain.   

I introduced Olly to wildlife regulators who shared insights on whale behaviour and on less exciting matters like obtaining permits. From there, we travelled to one of Canada’s most northern communities, Arctic Bay, where Inuit see narwhals from May to September. While in the hamlet, we met with locals who told us the best places to film narwhals. 

Arctic Bay, Nunavut, where locals often catch a glimpse of narwhals in the summer. Connecting with locals is an important step in securing footage of wildlife in the region. © Olly Scholey

Since Olly was new to Nunavut, it was important for him to build relationships with community members who would sign off on filming in the region, and later be essential to the filming process; nature videographers rely on locals to lead production teams to habitats and prevent human-wildlife conflict.

Brandon Laforest, in Arctic Bay, Nunavut, during his trip with an Our Planet researcher. Brandon’s wearing a locally-made hat. © Olly Scholey

While WWF-Canada was involved in the “Frozen Worlds” episode of Our Planet, WWF teams around the globe helped guide production to ensure the captivating wildlife featured were portrayed in the most accurate light – even if that meant showing devastating scenes play out on camera. We immensely enjoyed our small role, but above all, we love hearing how much viewers have embraced the series and are taking it a step further by becoming more engaged in conservation issues. If that’s you, we encourage you to be a Wildlifer.

Our Planet is streaming now on Netflix

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© Richard Barrett / WWF-UK 

Canada’s North is as unforgiving as it is stunning. This is never more apparent on film than in the “Frozen Worlds” episode of Netflix’s new docuseries, Our Planet.  

The Canadian Arctic is home to unique — and universally adored — species, all of which depend on sea ice for survival; it’s where they hunt, socialize, rest and rear their young. But this critical habitat is in peril, and if it disappears, they will, too.  

Sea ice is in steady decline — and it has been for 30 years now. That’s because the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the Earth. Soaring temperatures due to climate change have caused sea ice to thin, shrink and melt earlier in the year. When sea ice recedes, wildlife habitats do, too.  

Slowing climate change will ensure the long-term survival of these ice-dependent species. 

Narwhals 

© Paul Nicklen/National Geographic Stock / WWF-Canada 

When they’re not swimming in open sea, deep-diving narwhals get air from small cracks in the ice, which also keep them safe from predators. When cracks widen and ice disappears, narwhals become vulnerable to predation.  

A warmer, ice-free Arctic is attractive to curious marine species. Killer whales are showing up in the region in increasing numbers, which means trouble for the whale. This population of killer whales likes to gorge on narwhal, so when the apex predator is around, narwhals tend to cower close to shorelines where food is scarce. Since this is a new phenomenon, scientists are still learning how the growing number of predators are affecting the overall health and behaviour of narwhals.  

Polar bears

Ice has many uses for polar bears in Canada, but they primarily use it to hunt. When sea ice is plentiful in the winter, it gives them access to seals. Once ice melts and polar bears retreat to land, bears must use their energy reserves to survive until sea ice reforms. When ice forms late or is too thin for seals to make their dens, food becomes scarce and polar bears run the risk of starvation during summer months. And while many won’t necessarily starve, a lack of food could hinder a female’s ability to bring a cub to term.  

Studies show that polar bears at the southern point of their range are giving birth less frequently and fewer cubs are surviving. In these areas it was quite common to see a mother with three cubs. Today, researchers are observing more and more mothers with a single cub.  

Walrus

© Richard Barrett / WWF-UK 

The Pacific walruses showcased in the Netflix series prefer to spend their time on ice in groups known as haul-outs. It’s here they socialize, rest and reproduce. This ice-based habitat also provides access to food.  

When sea ice shrinks or melts entirely, it forces walruses to haul out on land where food availability is limited. Instead of gathering in smaller groups, land-based haul outs are much larger. This can result in a stampede, which you can see in a shocking scene of Our Planet. Meanwhile, Atlantic walruses are found in Canadian haul outs on land in late summer and early fall, when sea ice is at its minimum. As the Arctic warms, the push for industrial development is on the rise, increasing the risk of disturbances to this critical habitat. 

Caribou 

© Francois Gervais 

Arctic caribou are known for their epic long-distance migrations so it’s no surprise ice serves as a migratory habitat for some caribou in the North.  

Two populations found high in Canada’s North, Peary caribou and the Dolphin and Union herd, are completely reliant on sea ice for their migrations. 

Peary caribou, found in the high Arctic Archipelago and Ellesmere Island, need to travel on ice in search of the limited amount of forage between high Arctic islands. The Dolphin and Union herd cross between Victoria Island where they give birth and rear their young, and their wintering habitat on the mainland of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. The absence of sea ice would be disastrous for these groups, completely disrupting their migrations. Less reliable sea ice that is thin or forms later in the year could result in a population decline for both groups. 

Our Planet is streaming on Netflix now.  

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Pacific walruses sunning themselves in a land-based haul-out in Alaska. © Y.-J. Rey-Millet / WWF 

Panic erupts within a large group of walruses on Netflix’s new docuseries Our Planet, and the result is both gruesome and heartbreaking; scores of walruses are left seriously injured or dead.  

So, what happened?  

Because of rising temperatures due to climate change, Pacific walruses in the Bering Strait are losing their ice habitats. Instead of congregating in smaller groups on sea ice where they get better access to food, they are being driven on to land to haul-out in large numbers.  

A conflict between walruses is believed to have prompted others to scramble to safety; some got trampled while others fell off a cliff. As their preferred habitat disappears, deadly scenes like this one are becoming a more common occurrence.

Shrinking sea ice is also opening the Arctic to development resulting in an increase in shipping through sensitive marine habitats, ultimately leaving walruses displaced.

Walruses in the Svalbard archipelago, Norway. © WWF / Tom Arnbom

Why should we protect haul-outs? 

Walruses are social animals that congregate in groups known as haul-outs — both on sea ice and land, depending on the time of year. They use these sites to socialize, reproduce and rest before and after foraging for food.  

What WWF is doing to help the walrus 

In late summer and early fall, when sea ice is at its minimum, Canadian land-based haul-outs become critically important habitats. We’re working to minimize disturbances to these sites and the Atlantic walrus by pushing for long-term land protections from industrial development.  

See more spectacular scenes from Our Planet, streaming on Netflix now. 

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Our Planet is a Netflix original documentary series and groundbreaking four-year collaboration between Netflix, Silverback Films and WWF. It explores the rich natural wonders, iconic species and wildlife spectacles that still remain, and reveals the key issues that urgently threaten their existence.

Visit our site to watch the trailer and find out more about what WWF-Canada is doing to reverse the decline of wildlife.

Polar bear searching the ice-edge for food, Admiralty Inlet, Canada.
(c) David Reid / Silverback/Netflix

Today, we have become the greatest threat to the health of our planet. Unsustainable human activities have caused a 60 per cent average decline in global wildlife populations in less than a generation. Canadian wildlife are not immune to these losses. WWF’s Living Planet Report Canada found that half of the monitored vertebrate species in Canada are declining, and of those, the decline is 83 per cent.

Our collaborative mission is to inspire people over the world to understand our planet – and the challenges it faces. If we can truly understand why nature matters to us all, and what we can do to save it, then we can create a future where nature and people thrive.

WWF has ensured the Our Planet series and all supporting content is supported by the latest science.

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For thousands of people climbing Canada’s tallest building for WWF-Canada’s CN Tower Climb for Nature, the height they reach is staggering. But that’s nothing compared to some of the highest-flying birds in Canada.

Here are five Canadian birds that reach truly dizzying heights – and whose habitats, along with other wildlife, will be supported by the climbers ascending a mere 553 metres (that’s 1,776 steps!) above street level.

Did you know: These swans are large and heavy, weighing up to almost 11 kgs. They have long necks, entirely white plumage and a black beak with a yellow spot at the base. Nesting on Arctic tundra, they can often be found near water, although during migration and winter they sometimes travel to agricultural fields to find food.

Did you know: These majestic birds of prey have excellent eyesight that allows them to soar at extremely high heights and spot fish up to 1.6 kilometres away. Their wing spans range from 1.8 to 2.4 metres, and when they spot a food source, they can drop from the sky at up to 161 kilometres an hour. That’s some serious aerodynamics!

Did you know: Sandhill cranes have a noticeable red crown that stands out against their otherwise gray and tan feathers. These large, tall birds are about the same size as great blue herons, and breed and forage in prairies, grasslands and wetlands. They tend to migrate at very high heights.

Did you know: Turkey vultures are scavenger birds with an extraordinary sense of smell and can detect food from up to 1.6 kilometres away. They have been known to live up to 24 years and despite having, on average, a six-foot wingspan, they only weigh between two to four lbs.

Did you know: These common ducks can live in almost any wetland habitat in almost any freshwater body across Asia, Europe and North America. The males, also known as drakes, are more distinctively coloured than females. Believe it or not, the highest recorded flying mallard was flying at about 6,400 metres above Nevada – in the same range as a passenger airliner!

Learn more about the CN Tower Climb for Nature

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For many, time spent in the Arctic is an invaluable lesson in embracing unpredictability. That was the case when members of our Arctic team and other conservationists spent two months in Tremblay Sound for the annual narwhal camp. During a few outings on the ocean, researchers stumbled upon killer whale pods, which included a calf swimming by its mother’s side. 

A mother and her calf make their way around Tremblay Sound, Nunavut. © Maha Ghazal / Fisheries and Oceans Canada

While we know from Inuit and scientists alike that this is an emerging yet troubling trend, it’s rather spectacular (and rare!) to see with your own eyes. Over the last decade, warmer than average summers have made the Arctic a more hospitable place for these unusual visitors. And it comes as no surprise. In the summer of 2018, summer sea ice extent — that’s the measurement of ocean area covered by ice — was tied for the sixth lowest since satellites began collecting data nearly 40 years ago. Each decade, there is an average decline in sea ice extent by 12.8 per cent. Sea ice maximum is also on a steady decline, with 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 coming in as the four lowest extents on record. This means killer whales are able to visit Arctic waters earlier and stay for a longer period of time.  

Curious North Atlantic killer whales are increasingly capitalizing on these warmer waters by preying on summer residents such as narwhals and beluga whales. As an apex predator, there are no Arctic marine species that are off limits, and so they feast.  

How killer whales are changing narwhal behaviour  

The fear of becoming a meal for a killer whale is forcing narwhals closer to shore where food availability, such as Greenland halibut and Arctic cod, is limited.   

“Narwhal summer behaviour is dramatically altered by proximity to killer whales. They become evasive and skittish,” says Peter Ewins, lead specialist of species conservation at WWF-Canada. 

This new phenomenon doesn’t just put Arctic marine life in harm’s way. Due in part to a large dorsal fin and unfamiliarity with the territory, at least 20 killer whales have been trapped in sea ice in under a decade. Once trapped, killer whales struggle to free themselves and often succumb to starvation.  

Now, more than ever, Canada needs to make an investment in research to better understand how climate change is creating a shift in wildlife migration and behaviour. Through our Arctic Species Conservation Fund, we are working to learn more about wildlife in the North.  

Here’s a look at the whales we spotted over the summer.  

Killer whales enjoying ice-free waters in the Arctic. © Maha Ghazal / Fisheries and Oceans Canada

A warming ocean is creating a hospitable environment ripe for killer whales to exploit. © Maha Ghazal / Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Inuit communities and scientists are seeing an increase in killer whales off the coast of Nunavut, Canada. © Maha Ghazal / Fisheries and Oceans Canada

© Maha Ghazal / Fisheries and Oceans Canada

If you’d like to support our work in the Canadian Arctic, please donate here

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