Over the past week, harp seals, harbour seals and belugas have been sighted along the north shore of the St. Lawrence. These faithful pinnipeds and cetaceans are amongst the die-hard winter residents still present as we near the end of February.
Those who are lucky enough to spot a seal on the ice or a white whale gliding quietly across the St. Lawrence are always just as amazed. For the more unfortunate observers who return home empty-handed, it’s not for lack of perseverance! They may carefully scan the open sea for hours in search of dark spots on the ice or white backs in the water. Others, however, have to be patient when the coast is sheathed in ice and there’s not a hint of movement on the horizon. It all goes to show that cetaceans and pinnipeds are highly unpredictable!
On the north shore of the St. Lawrence
In Les Escoumins, a few harp seals have been present on the ice in recent days. Harp seals give birth in the middle of winter , mainly off the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador as well as near the Magdalen Islands. A local resident passionately rattles off her observations over the last week: “At least a dozen belugas split into several smaller groups! They were heading upstream, toward Tadoussac. Not too far from shore, some of them even showed their caudal fins when diving, not to mention two harp seals and a harbour seal! Sunday at Cap de Bon-Désir, there were harp seals, harbour seals and four or five belugas!”
In Tadoussac, a group of four belugas was seen swimming gracefully off the dunes. On Tuesday, February 28, a small harbour seal was moving quietly amongst the ice floes opposite the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre (CIMM), which is closed for the winter. Sculptor Yves Chabot, who was visiting the CIMM to mend the life-size beluga sculptures in the Jardin de la Grève, had the opportunity to spot a beluga tail from aboard the ferry! That afternoon, seabirds were also present in the area. “We witnessed a little squabble between a red-breasted merganser and a gull,” tells a naturalist who was working in her office. The gull was trying to steal the merganser’s catch; it was pretty intense!”
Dreaming of whales
With March right around the corner and mild weather inevitably approaching, we can afford to fantasize a little about the whale-watching season. Having left for warmer waters for the winter, these large marine mammals will soon embark on their migration, since for some species such as the minke whale, they can return to the St. Lawrence as early as late March! After that, blue whales, fin whales, humpbacks and harbour porpoises will arrive in succession. On the other hand, as whale migration is still poorly understood, it is difficult to predict exactly when they will make their first appearances. Nevertheless, we can still dream a little, can’t we?
Share your observations!
Have you seen any marine mammals in the St. Lawrence? Whether it’s a spout offshore or just a couple of seals, drop us a line and send your photos to [email protected]!