The heavy rains and strong winds that pounded “La Belle Province” in recent days have certainly made watching marine mammals more difficult. The boats remained moored to the docks and fewer souls ventured out to the river in search of signs of life offshore. Nevertheless, sightings of humpbacks, belugas, seals and minke whales reminded us that peak whale-watching season is fast approaching!

Awe-inspiring minkes

Last Sunday morning, in Gaspé Bay, it was a rather active minke whale that charmed observers: “It put on a great show of breaches and breathing,” says one spectator. Indeed, this species is known to have colourful feeding behaviours. It uses rock faces and currents to trap its prey, which it engulfs while occasionally sticking out of the water its head, part of its body or its pectoral fins. Observers then have the chance to admire the pink furrows of its throat or the white “armbands” on its pectoral fins, a characteristic unique to the minke whale! This species, which sometimes lunges partly out of the water when feeding, is also capable of performing full vertical breaches.

Several minke whales were also observed in Les Escoumins – including near the ferry – as well as in Les Bergeronnes. An individual of this species surprised a resident of Tadoussac at Pointe-Rouge, and a few more were reported from the Franquelin sector.

From the gulf to the estuary

Once again this week, observers are sharing their encounters with humpbacks in the gulf and the estuary. These giants are finally completing their long journey after migrating thousands of kilometres from the Caribbean, where they spend the winter. A biologist working in Forillon National Park in Quebec’s Gaspé region was surprised by the powerful blasts made by these animals before he finally spotted them offshore. Observations also came in from Baie-Comeau, Les Bergeronnes and Les Escoumins, while one passenger on board the ferry between Godboutand Matane had the chance to film the spouts of these giants.

Great whales are not the only ones to have entertained cetacean enthusiasts. A group of belugas lingered for quite a while in front of the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre on Thursday afternoon, much to the delight of those who work there. “We could see their breaths and we even spotted a very young individual amongst the adults,” affirms one of the staff. A group was also seen off Les Escoumins on Saturday, as were a few individuals in the Mingan Islands.

As usual, seals are making appearances everywhere. From harbour seals at Rivière-Ouelle, Les Bergeronnes and Tadoussac, to grey seals at Cap-des-Rosiers beach in Gaspésie and Les Escoumins, not to mention a harp seal in Les Escoumins, these small mammals have not been going unnoticed. “We were watching the sunset at L’Anse-de-Roche when a little head popped out of the water! This brief visit by a harbour seal made us so happy,” says a Tadoussac local.

Pups that don’t need help

In the St. Lawrence, the period from mid-May to mid-June is crucial for harbour seals. Patrick Weldon of the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network recalls “It’s the beginning of the harbour seal’s pupping season, so it’s normal to see young seals alone on dry land this time of year. It is important not to approach them, because in addition to causing them significant stress, the risk of abandonment by the mother is higher if there is a human presence. Females also need plenty of space and quiet to give birth. We suggest keeping a distance of at least 100 metres from any marine mammals.”

Observation of the Week - 4/5/2023

Véronique Genesse

Véronique is a biologist and a writer for Whales online. She has discovered her love for cetaceans following memorable encounters with these giants of the sea. She then grew interested in conservation after becoming aware of the numerous threats they face. She believes that participation from the general public is essential for the success of conservation projects.

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