Calving season for St. Lawrence belugas is right around the corner, and to provide these animals with an area of peace and quiet, Parks Canada has announced a no-boating zone in the Baie Sainte-Marguerite area of the Saguenay Fjord. In this regard, every year between June 21 and September 21, watercraft – including motor boats, kayaks, canoes, sailboats and rowboats – are prohibited within the red zone shown on the map in an effort to limit disturbance to St. Lawrence belugas, an endangered population.
Baie Sainte-Marguerite is part of the beluga’s summer habitat and is critical for the species’ survival. It is an important place for females and young belugas, who use the bay to rest, socialize, and care for their offspring. Using observational data collected by researchers at Parks Canada and the Société des établissements de plein air du Québec (Sépaq), the Parks Canada conservation team was able to define the area most heavily frequented by female belugas and their offspring year after year.
For Robert Michaud, scientific director of the Group for Marine Mammal Research and Education, this initiative is a positive development: “St. Lawrence belugas need all our help to recover. Baie Sainte-Marguerite is a good place to begin creating acoustic refuges, given its importance for St. Lawrence belugas. This well-known sector will help raise awareness of this beluga protection measure and, we hope, inspire the creation of other acoustic shelters elsewhere within the beluga’s critical habitat.”
This summer, GREMM is involved in two research projects in the heart of Baie Sainte-Marguerite: one on the impact of boat traffic noise on cetacean communication (in collaboration with Ocean Wise), and the other on allo-parental care, i.e. care given to a calf by any adult belugas other than the calf’s own mother (with Memorial University of Newfoundland). These research projects were issued research permits under the Marine Activities in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park Regulations. To minimize disturbance to St. Lawrence belugas, research activities will be conducted from a temporary tower erected in the bay.
The no-boating zone measure is in addition to the Marine Activities in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park Regulations, which was updated in 2017 to reinforce protective measures for marine mammals.