In recent weeks, it seems impossible to go out on the water without seeing at least a hundred or so gray seals! Although my primary job is to photo-identify large rorquals, I often take advantage of my time in the field to capture a few images of the river’s biodiversity.
When we found ourselves in the middle of a huge herd of feeding gray seals, I quickly snatched my camera to try to get a few shots. I focused on one seal particularly close to the boat. Shutter released, the familiar “click” of the camera caused the seal to briskly turn in my direction. We stared at one another. The moment lasted but a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity. I was entranced by those huge intelligent eyes, which seemed to reflect a much deeper understanding than I thought possible.
With a loud snort, the seal turned away and plunged into the water. I was spellbound. In biology, it is important to refrain from attributing human characteristics to the animals being studied. This is why we do not speak of joy, tenderness or sadness in scientific journals. Yet this encounter left me with a deep doubt. We might need to reconsider, after all this time, what we deem as a “human” feature.
Jaclyn Aubin joined the GREMM team this year as a volunteer research assistant. She holds a bachelor’s degree in marine biology. As part of the photo-census program of large rorquals in the Marine Park, she collects photos and data on board tour boats. She also shares this information with the editorial team of Whales Online.