There is a common misconception that a kayak has no effect on belugas and other whales because it is a craft that does not emit any noise. It is easy to imagine that noise can be disturbing to whales, being as they use sound for orientation, hunting and socialization. But noise is not the only factor that can have an impact on them; the proximity of humans and boats can affect them as well. Even a small watercraft like a near-silent kayak can be a disturbance. These “obstacles” spotted at the last minute can be a stress for feeding whales and these objects of curiosity for belugas all too often interrupt their vital activities. As they are curious and unwary of watercraft, we must understand that the time they spend investigating boats is time they are not spending on essential activities such as feeding, social behaviour, parental care, etc. When the presence of a watercraft near a whale causes a change in its natural behaviour, a disturbance has taken place. If it is repetitive, the disturbance can compromise these whales’ chances of survival and reproduction.

logo-beluga-kayakResidents of the marine park, belugas are present throughout the year in the St. Lawrence, and especially in the Fjord in the summer. These whales give birth to their young mostly in July and August, making this is a critical time for the survival of calves and their mothers who need peace and quiet to raise and feed them and to rest. Although the temptation is strong, do not approach them. The Marine Activities in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park Regulations have also been developed to minimize the risk of disturbance. Compliance with these regulations is important, whether you’re in a kayak or on board any other kind of watercraft.

We must protect them from their own curiosity!

© GREMM
© GREMM

There are plenty of stories of kayakers who were “visited” by curious belugas in the Fjord, near the south shore or along the Côte-Nord. What should you do if belugas approach your kayak? Do not stop. Continue paddling in order to maintain a buffer of at least 400 metres from all belugas. Do not try and engage them and keep your distance to allow them to continue their activities. Also bear in mind that even if whales are generally harmless to humans, caution should be exercised, not only because they are large in size, but also because they are still wild animals.

Note that Baie Sainte-Marguerite in the Saguenay Fjord is a unique and critical habitat for the survival of the beluga population. It is often frequented by herds of females with their young. An avoidance zone has been established at the entrance of the bay: it is to be avoided between June 15 to September 30. To help protect the beluga, recreational boaters, kayakers and hikers are requested not to enter the bay.

To learn more:

On the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park website:

Sea kayaking

The Marine Activities in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park Regulations

Species at risk: the beluga

On Whales Online:

Best practices in Quebec

Disturbance by whale-watching boats

Do whale-watching boats disturb whales?

Whale Q&A - 18/6/2016

Josiane Cabana

Josiane Cabana served as Director for the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network call centre from 2011 to 2018. When she’s not responding to cases of dead or vulnerable marine mammals, she likes to take the time to educate local residents on the threats faced by these animals. Biologist by training, she has been involved with the GREMM for more than 15 years, and always with the same undying passion!

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