This week, eyes are shifting to the Gaspé in the hope of solving a very particular enigma… Large rorquals have been observed, but what kind? To whom do these towering spouts and endless backs belong? That’s anyone’s guess! On the north shore of the St. Lawrence, seals have been seen regularly and the first minke whale was reported in Tadoussac, while the Saguenay River is slowly shedding its ice.

Visible from Cap-aux-Os, great whales were meandering around Gaspé Bay on March 19. “At first I thought I was crazy when I saw a breath from the car, says one reader, “but it wasn’t just my imagination. It was indeed a blast and quite a big one, too! Then, despite the wind, I ended up seeing the back that seemed impossibly long. I don’t believe it!” A few days later, on Wednesday, March 22, a resident also noticed two large spouts in the same area during her ski outing.

After examining the photos and videos taken at Cap-aux-Os, the research team at the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM) is unable to confirm with certainty which species it is, but it is undoubtedly a large rorqual! The other report of spouts unfortunately had no photos, so it’s difficult to make an ID. For the observer, she still believes she saw a blue whale: “There were 50 km/h winds and rarely have we seen such powerful gusts, and even less so sustained gusts with strong winds like that. The last time we saw fin whales, we couldn’t see their backs for that long.” In the end, doubt and mystery persist for the local who made the observation: “For sure, it was pretty far away… In any case, if it was a fin whale, it was a pretty darn big one!” Or perhaps a hybrid?” The existence of a fin-blue hybrid is indeed very real and was first documented by scientists in the 1990s. Cross-breeds between these two species can survive to adulthood and even reproduce.

On March 22, a vacationer staying in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts was also treated to a spectacular sighting of spouts offshore. “We’re really on the edge of the river here. We saw 3 whale breaths this morning and a back about 400 metres from shore; the blow was at least 4 metres high. I was so excited! Do you think it could be a blue whale?”  After consulting the Whales Online computer graphic to learn how to recognize spouts, the observer believes she noticed a balloon-shaped blow, which is a telltale sign of a humpback. The distance and height of the blast, however, suggest that it might have been another species. It just goes to show that it’s not always easy to identify these marine mammals. One thing is for sure, however, and that is that large rorquals have been observed in the Gaspé region!

Seals, scattered ice and a first minke whale

A biologist photographs a harp seal in the Cap-des-Rosiers marina, a marine mammal enthusiast observes a few harp seals on the ice in Sept-Îles, while a harbour seal is reported near the ferry terminal in Les Escoumins. These pinnipeds are almost everywhere! In Gallix, however, a hiker always returns empty-handed from her excursions, but refuses to lose hope: “I took several walks by the sea and scanned the horizon, but I didn’t see any seals or whales. I always cross my fingers! In Les Bergeronnes, 75 harp seals have been present in recent days, in addition to a handful of grey and harbour seals. Several belugas also passed by Cap de Bon-Désir.

 

A harbour seal and a harp seal were observed from Pointe de l’Islet, while in Tadoussac, the first minke whale of the season was spotted from the dunes. Indeed, these little baleen whales can be spotted in the St. Lawrence as early as March!

Over the past couple days, a few seals have been seen floating by on the ice at the mouth of the fjord. “It’s awesome,” comments one resident, “to see thousands of mini icebergs floating down the Saguenay after the passage of the icebreaker farther upstream…” For one outdoor enthusiast, the first signs of spring are very present with the arrival of whales and birds as well as the increasingly scarce ice in the rivers and the fjord!

Share your observations!

Have you seen any marine mammals in the St. Lawrence? Whether it’s a spout offshore or just a couple of seals, drop us a line and send your photos to [email protected]!

Observation of the Week - 23/3/2023

Andréanne Forest

Andréanne Forest is the editor-in-chief of Whales Online since may 2022. After studying in environment and biology, she turned to science communication with the goal of making science both accessible and fun. Andréanne wishes to highlight the process of acquiring knowledge while transmitting the desire to learn.

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