The slow start to the 2023 season in the Lower Estuary continues, with still very few observations of large whales. The female humpback Tic Tac Toe did make a second appearance this spring, but this time her stay was very short-lived. A second fin whale for us this season has been roaming between Les Bergeronnes and Les Escoumins for the past few days, but it is very much alone….

Minke whales are slowly arriving in the area, but we are far from the usual “abundance”… However, there are always things to see and admire in our little corner of paradise. Fabulous landscapes, our striking red and white Prince Shoal Lighthouse, the changing colours of the sometimes turbulent, sometimes calm waters, the impressive tide rips, waves of varying intensity depending on the winds and tides. There is also the beauty of seabirds. And then there are the seals. These large predators capitalize on every opportunity! In recent days, I’ve managed to document two impressive scenes off the coast of Tadoussac.

June 13, 2023

A tide rip between two buoys at the mouth of the Saguenay. We spot a harbour seal in the distance with a large fish in its mouth. It disappears and we move on. Then, back in the area a few minutes later, we relocate the marine mammal with what little remains of its prey: just the head! A scrumptious shad. An adjective that seems well chosen! But the seal is not alone; it is being harassed by several herring gulls… and a great black-backed gull determined to snatch away from the seal what’s left of its fish.

Several intense dives toward the seal and then, with patience and determination, the black-backed gull manages to rob the seal of a tasty shad head. The bird fends off its herring gull cousins and flies off to devour its spoils.

As for the harbour seal, it seems very frustrated by this heist and passes in front of us, its nostrils quivering… Perhaps I’m showing a bit of anthropomorphism – I admit it! – but on the ground, you could actually sense the seal’s frustration and anger toward the gull that just made off with its meal!

June 14, 2023

An even more impressive scene. In the past, we’ve already observed grey seals devouring harbour seals. I also documented in 2022 several grey seal attacks on harbour porpoises. But that morning was unprecedented for me in over 20 years on the water!

Imagine instead this mind-boggling scene: a grey seal gobbling down… a harp seal!

Harp seals have almost all returned north, with just a few stragglers remaining in the area. Grey seals are beginning to arrive, though with a slight delay this season. And this grey seal was having a blast this morning, tearing its harp seal cousin to pieces, leaving just scraps for gulls and kittiwakes closely tracking the marine mammal’s movements with its prey. Of course, closest to the grey seal was this great black-backed gull, which was eager to cash in on some leftovers.

Yes, it is obviously cruel. But we all know that nature is both incredibly beautiful and intensely ruthless. These photos are here to document these two extraordinary scenes.

Harbour seal © Renaud Pintiaux
Gull and American shad © Renaud Pintiaux
Grey and harp seals © Renaud Pintiaux
Field Notes - 22/6/2023

Renaud Pintiaux

GREMM research assistant from 2003 to 2009 and from 2012 to 2014, Renaud Pintiaux is a passionate observer and photographer. Year round, whether from shore or on the water, he takes every opportunity to observe marine mammals and birds in the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park.

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