The food chain from the bottom up

Ian McQuinn had always been fascinated by whales, but it was with fish and invertebrates that he began his career. Indeed, after earning his bachelor’s degree in ecology and population dynamics from Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia) in 1977, he was hired by Fisheries and Oceans Canada as technician where he studies marine invertebrate stocks. In 1980, he moved to Quebec and worked notably at Université Laval before returning to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, where for over 25 years he has been studying the ecology and population dynamics of pelagic fish (herring, capelin, sand lance), and more recently krill, in the St. Lawrence Estuary and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Forage species, which include pelagic fish and krill, are at the base of the vast St. Lawrence food network whose upper echelons are occupied by several marine mammals, including species at risk such as the beluga and the blue whale. And that’s what intrigues this researcher in particular: the influence of the distribution and abundance of these forage species on the whales’ feeding ecology and essential habitat. To answer these questions, Ian McQuinn collaborated with several other research teams working with whales of the St. Lawrence at Fisheries and Oceans Canada as well as at the GREMM, MICS, and Parks Canada.

Working with fish year after year, he acquired in-depth experience in the fields of active and passive hydroacoustics. Since 2001, he has headed a hydroacoustics lab at the Maurice Lamontagne Institute and has been leading development and implementation projects pertaining to acoustic methods, notably to identify prey species and determine the exposure of marine mammals to anthropogenic noise such as seismic surveys and maritime traffic.