OTD: Beluga whale conference sparks international debate

On today’s date in 1988, an international forum on the beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) was held in Tadoussac, Qué., after the species was found to be endangered by pollution in the St. Lawrence River and Saguenay River.

Since the issue was first brought to light in 1988, several beluga whales have been found dead along the shores of the St. Lawrence River. In 2013, the CBC reported fewer than three dead baby belugas washed up on shore each summer, based on data dating back to the early 1980s; however, in 2012, researchers in Tadoussac found 17 dead beluga calves dead, drifting in the water, or washed up on shore.

A beluga whale is featured on the 2013-dated circulation coin designed by Pitsiulak.


In 2013, the Royal Canadian Mint revamped some non-circulating legal tender designs on two circulating 25-cent commemorative coins, each with two finishes, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Arctic Expedition.

The expedition was ordered by then-prime minister Robert Borden, who dispatched two teams of explorers and researchers on an ambitious mission to map Canada’s western Arctic and study its peoples, wildlife and geology.

One of the 25-cent coins honours the traditions and cultures of Canada’s northern communities. Designed by Nunavut artist Tim Pitsiulak, the coin is rendered in classic Inuit art style to represent life in the north as seen by its inhabitants. The central design feature is a pair of beluga whales and a bowhead whale, common to Arctic waters and vitally important to the Inuit way of life.

A $3 Fine silver coin (shown above) featuring Pitsiulak’s beluga whale design was also issued in 2013.

The bowhead whale on this coin has been transformed into a canvas displaying multiple facets of Inuit culture and history. A large Dorset culture ivory mask on the dorsal part of the bowhead whale and smaller depictions on its lower jaw represent the Tuniit (paleo-Eskimos), who migrated from Siberia across the Bering Strait into North America.

An amauti design – featuring the parka worn by Inuit women – is on the whale’s tale while an igloo pattern adorns its mid-section and the Thule ivory comb on its head symbolizes Inuit expansion across Canada. This scene is encircled by the silhouette of a breaching whale being pursued by a traditional whaling boat and kayaks along the coin’s rim.

The design was also used for a $3 Fine silver non-circulating legal tender coin issued in 2013.

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