After causing a sensation two weeks ago with a remarkable presence in Percé and a few appearances in the Côte-Nord region, whales have been rather quiet over the past few days in the St. Lawrence. The cetaceans seem to have been supplanted by pinnipeds, with sightings this week of three different species of seals!

In Franquelin, the horizon is calm: “No one has seen any whales in the area,” explains a marine mammal enthusiast. “That doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t any there, just that no one has actually seen any. I can’t wait for them to return!” In Les Escoumins, a hundred or so harp seals were seen lazing on the ice. This highly gregarious species congregate by the hundreds, even thousands, on ice floes that it relies on for pupping, reproduction and moulting.

At Cap-de-bon-Désir, naturalist and wildlife photographer Renaud Pintiaux has been regularly observing a solitary grey seal not far from the coast. A few harbour seals have also been present. In Tadoussac, two or three harbour seals are often seen swimming near Pointe de l’Ilet.

Disappearing ice despite fresh snow

Snowstorms swept over eastern Quebec last weekend, draping the coasts in a white blanket. In the gulf, the mild weather that followed, however, freed the river from the ice that seemed to be on the cusp of taking hold last week.

“There’s almost no ice in Sept-Îles right now,” explains mariner and marine mammal observer Jacques Gélineau. “It’s very surprising and is not normal for this time of the year.” In 2021 as well, the St. Lawrence did not get its usual layer of ice, which can be worrying. Previous ice-free winters were observed in 1958, 1969, 2010 and 2011. With climate change, these previously exceptional events have the potential to recur more and more often, or even to become the new norm.

Ice plays an important role in the ecosystem by shielding the coastline from erosion. It also provides an important rest area for seals, in addition to participating in physical and chemical exchanges.

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]!

Observation of the Week - 19/1/2023

Andréanne Forest

Andréanne Forest is the editor-in-chief of Whales Online since may 2022. After studying in environment and biology, she turned to science communication with the goal of making science both accessible and fun. Andréanne wishes to highlight the process of acquiring knowledge while transmitting the desire to learn.

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