Forever farther north

Thomas Doniol-Valcroze has been interested in marine mammals ever since he was a child. To turn this dream into reality, he crossed the Atlantic, leaving Paris for Montréal to pursue a master’s (2002) and a Ph.D. (2008) in wildlife biology at McGill University. He spent his summers on the water.

He completed his first internship in the summer of 1995 at the Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS), founded by Richard Sears. He returned every year for almost 10 years to work as research assistant and to conduct field work for his doctoral thesis on rorquals of the Gulf. In 2008, he completed a post-doctoral fellowship with Véronique Lesage on the feeding ecology of blue whales at Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) Maurice Lamontagne Institute. Following this fellowship, he was hired as a biologist at the DFO.

And today? After years of working with marine mammals in the Côte-Nord region, he’s found himself deep in the heart of Quebec’s Far North. As marine mammal stock assessment biologist for Nunavik, he works in particular on species depended upon by the Inuit for subsistence (belugas, seals, walruses). His research focuses on the size of populations, their migratory routes, the impact of climate change on their distribution and their habitat, as well as the sustainability of subsistence hunting.

According to him, THE challenge is to succeed in applying this knowledge in a rapidly changing Arctic, where the fate of the Canadian Inuit is closely tied to marine mammals. The latter are indeed an important source of food and are essential for maintaining their traditions. As biologist, he must provide the Inuit with the information they need to strike a lasting balance between meeting their needs in the short term and conservation in the long term.

Despite his work that takes him to remote regions, Thomas has not forgotten the whales of the St. Lawrence. The appeal of this watercourse as a feeding area for these giants as well as human/whale coexistence strategies are subject areas that still intrigue him. Part of a team whose research subjects also cover the St. Lawrence, he works on beluga population censuses and modelling of their numbers, as well as on rorqual ecology, habitat and feeding in the Estuary.