“I fell in love with whales in the 1980s, when a humpback washed up alive on a beach in my country,” recalls Cristiane C. de Albuquerque Martins. Even if she lived in Brazil’s interior, far from the coast, she was able to follow in the media the major mobilization that helped return the whale to the water, safe and sound.

Determined to help protect cetaceans, she decides to study oceanography, over 3,000 km away from home. But on her first day of university, she’s in for a rude awakening: “The professor asks us what we want to do later [in our careers], and we realize that we all have the same dream. He immediately tells us that working with whales is very difficult and encourages us to study zooplankton instead.”

Defying this advice, the young oceanographer completes several internships in Abrolhos National Marine Park, where humpback whales come to reproduce, and, for her senior year research project, chooses to map the few data on the species available at the time.

Whales and boats

For her master’s degree, Cristiane focuses on the themes of shared marine space between humans and animals as well as mapping of human activities and hot spots for whales along the Brazilian coast. She would stick with this theme throughout her professional career, which brought her to Canada in 2007 to pursue a PhD. The topic? The well known simulator 3MTSim (Marine Mammal and Marine Traffic Simulator), on which Clément Chion, Robert Michaud and Samuel Turgeon are also working. The goal is always the same: to collect and model data on maritime traffic and whale movements in the St. Lawrence.

“I sincerely believe that a real sharing of space is possible between human activities and marine mammals. To achieve this, we must understand how our uses overlap, including key areas for the species and for boat traffic, in addition to being familiar not only with whale behaviours, but also those of local residents and mariners,” explains the researcher.

Humps of hope

In 2012, Cristiane C. de Albuquerque Martins gets closer to her subject of study when she moves to Tadoussac. She collaborates with GREMM, ROMM and Parks Canada before joining Parks Canada in 2017.

There, she improves protocols for collecting data on St. Lawrence belugas, compiles and analyzes data on large rorquals, prepares reports on observation activities within the Marine Park, etc. She brings her love for maps and modelling, her experience in land-based data collection and her fascination with the wide range of extraordinary behaviours exhibited by marine mammals.

“I love being in the field, seeing a whale, and feeling the emotion that whales evoke in the people around them. These animals occupy an incredible place in our imagination. And I like the idea that I can make a little contribution to their conservation,” she confides in her charming accent.

From Tadoussac, the researcher has kept one toe in her native Brazil through her review of scientific articles and her involvement in the Institute Viva and in the Latin American Society of Aquatic Mammal Specialists (SOLAMAC). And the “Jubartes” of her youth are never far away! “When I started studying humpbacks, they were an endangered species. This is no longer the case today, so it is a great success story. I really dare to believe that we will succeed in the challenge of coexisting with whales!”