From one ocean to another

Growing up in Rimouski, Lyne Morissette couldn’t get enough of the St. Lawrence Estuary. In 1998, she received her bachelor’s in biological sciences (with a concentration in ecology and environment) from the Université de Montréal. At the time, she was working as an aquatic ecology biologist and professional diver, focusing mostly on studies in ecotoxicology. After earning her bachelor’s, she joined Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) research team studying marine mammals at the Maurice Lamontagne Institute (MLI): a major turning point for her career. Her studies relate to the effects of seal predation from an ecosystem perspective. In 2001, this project would earn her a master’s in wildlife and habitat management from the Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR).

Her Ph.D. saw her continue on this same course at the prestigious Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia (UBC), where she received her doctorate in zoology. She conducts research on the ecology of marine mammals and their interactions with fisheries as well as ecosystem resilience. Despite an academic path that transpired on the Pacific, Lyne Morissette pursues her involvement in marine mammal research in the Atlantic region. Indeed, she integrates the Gulf of St. Lawrence in her overall analysis of the ecological role of marine mammals within the planet’s ecosystems.

Studying marine mammals… in the desert!

Strange as it may seem, Dr. Morissette’s interest in marine mammal ecology took her to the middle of the desert, more specifically to Arizona State University where she joined the team of Dr. Leah Gerber during her post-doctoral work in marine ecology and conservation. Lyne has examined whaling issues and the interactions between whales and fisheries in three zones of conflict: northwestern Africa, the Caribbean and the South Pacific. In June 2008 and 2009, at the 60th and 61st Annual Meetings of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), she presented the scientific committee with the breakthrough findings of her project. In February 2009, the results of this research were even published in the prestigious periodical Science. This project, financed by the Lenfest Ocean Program, has led her to travel the globe and collaborate with a number of different countries. Moreover, the UNESCO Chair in Integrated Analysis of Marine Systems, of which she is co-founder, is based on her collaboration with the countries of West Africa.

On the Whale Route

In spring 2011, she boarded the schooner Bel Espoir II as ecosystem ecology and marine mammal expert for the inaugural crossing of the Agoa Sanctuary, a 138,000 km2 marine protected area dedicated to the preservation of marine mammals in the Caribbean. This “floating” seminar, attended by 24 scientists from around the world, promotes the protection of cetaceans in their habitats both in the North and in the South, research, and public awareness. “The whales that we are protecting here, along with the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, will spend the winter in the South for reproduction, in a sanctuary where they will now be protected.” Since then, the “Great Whales Journey Expedition” has been in full swing and comprises research, conservation, and education components for the cetaceans of the North Atlantic.

By sail

Since 2013, Lyne Morissette has been scientific director of ÉcoMaris’ Saint-Laurent program, where she is responsible for research and sustainable navigation practices aboard the majestic Roter Sand, the first sail training vessel in Quebec dedicated to the environment, in addition to translating the scientific research conducted on the St. Lawrence into a language that the general public can better relate to. She also collaborates closely with the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (NAMMCO) as well as the WWF-West African Marine Ecoregion. Now CEO of her own marine science consulting firm, she pursues her research on mammals in oceans around the world.

And despite all this travelling, she is always delighted to come home to the St. Lawrence, her place of inspiration and retreat.