Curious and welcoming!
For 25 years already, Dany Zbinden has been navigating the waters of the Estuary in search of whales! Prior to embarking on this adventure in 1993, the Swiss biologist had worked in a national park in the Swiss Alps, in the heart of the tropical forests of Côte d’Ivoire, at the University of Zurich’s Anthropological Institute & Museum, as well as with the Swiss Association for the Protection of Birds (SVS).
In 2001 he founded Mériscope, a non-profit organization based in the village of Portneuf-sur-Mer in the Haute-Côte-Nord region. For the first 10 years or so, a favourite subject for Dany and his team were underwater acoustics, including whale vocalizations and noise pollution, recorded using hydrophones, buoys, or recorders brought on board the Zodiacs “Marsouin” and “Narval”. In fact, in 1995, after graduating from the University of Zurich in Switzerland with a degree in biology, he completed a training program in bioacoustics at Cornell University in the US.
At the start of Mériscope’s second decade, the creation of the photo-identification catalogue of St. Lawrence minke whales with nearly 100 individuals was a memorable accomplishment for the small team. In 2019, this catalogue features over 250 individuals and counting, including 25 minke whales considered to be regular visitors.
In 2015, in close collaboration with the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM), Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada, the Mériscope team launched a research project on the bioaccumulation and biological effects of PBDEs and emerging flame retardants in minke whales. The Mériscope team tracks and performs biopsies on minke whales, which are particular challenging in the case of this solitary, fast-swimming and agile predator.
Although Mériscope’s mission aims to further the understanding of marine mammal biology in the St. Lawrence through these kinds of research projects, the organization’s involvement in education is also important. This station is committed to becoming a platform to host and support students and researchers who wish to carry out marine biology projects. To date, nearly 400 trainees from various countries have been welcomed and nearly a dozen research projects have been facilitated in the framework of master’s degrees or PhDs. A highlight of the organization’s educational component was the launch of the “MerisCool” project in March 2019 by teammate Jackie Egger, a program that offers educational activities and the supervision of high school / CEGEP graduation projects.
Since 2004, Mériscope has been an active member of the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network and is involved in multiple interventions every year. From 2012 to 2019, Dany was a board member of the Corporation des services universitaires du secteur ouest de la Côte-Nord, and since 2016, has been involved in a number of working groups at the invitation of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Trained as a polar educator, Dany has spent several months each year since 2017 in Antarctica as a speaker and Zodiac guide aboard expedition ships for Quark Expeditions, a Toronto-based company specializing in polar regions. In 2018, he became a collaborating member of EcotoQ, an ecotoxicology research group. Since 2019, Dany has been a rescue volunteer for the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary for search and rescue missions in the St. Lawrence Estuary.
The work of Dany Zbinden and his team has not gone unnoticed. Mériscope’s projects have been featured in the international press and a number of TV documentaries in Canada, France, Switzerland and Germany. In 2019, the Government of Canada recognized Mériscope as an environmental charity.