First Dolphins of the Year and a Great-Grandmother

  • Dauphins à flancs blancs © Renaud Pintiaux
    Les dauphins à flancs blancs se déplacent par groupe de 5 à 500 individus! © Renaud Pintiaux (archives)
    11 / 07 / 2019 Par Marie-Ève Muller

    Measuring 2 to 2.7 metres long, their toned bodies are black, white, grey and yellowish-beige. Atlantic white-sided dolphins! Fifteen or so individuals were seen leaping in Gaspé Bay on July 5. “We usually don’t see them until late July,” comments one experienced cruise employee. Leaving just as suddenly as they arrived, the white-sided dolphins only visited the bay that one day.

    In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, they are estimated to number approximately 12,000 individuals. That is much more than St. Lawrence belugas (about 900) or even the herd of minke whales in the Gulf (about 1,000 individuals). On rare occasions, a few white-sided dolphins are spotted as far upstream as the Estuary. And visits by dolphins never go unnoticed on account of their impressive aerial behaviours.

    Another species with aerial acrobatics is the humpback whale. As she sets up her tent on Île Nue de Mingan, a camper hears a splash on the water. She turns around to witness a breach, then another, and other… up to ten consecutive breaches by a humpback whale.

    Speaking of humpbacks, the Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS) has added a generation to Pseudo’s family tree (H008). In 1982, she gave birth to the female Fleuret. Fleuret in turn gave birth to up to seven known calves! The most recent one, Hockey, was born in 2003. This year, Hockey was photographed with a newborn off the coast of Sept-Îles by MICS collaborator and long-time observer Jacques Gélineau. Pseudo is therefore a great-grandmother, the first one ever to be documented in the St. Lawrence.

    Pseudo and her calf, in 2016. She is now a great-grandmother. © René Roy

    A duo of humpbacks also made an appearance in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park on July 9. One has an almost entirely black tail, while the other’s is all white. They were identified as H887 and H916, two humpbacks first observed in the Estuary last summer. Will they stay longer than Tic Tac Toe and Snowball? Stay tuned!
    In Baie-des-Sables, a minke whale often passes near the shoreline and near the end of the docks; meanwhile, a seal pokes its head out of the water. It even lifts a third of its body out of the water. “This is the first time I am seeing this. I don’t know what it is doing, but I have the feeling it is feeding on small fish,” reports the observer.
    On July 8, at the Pointe-des-Monts lighthouse near the farthest reaches of the Estuary, visitors cry out: “Belugas!” The on-site naturalist is intrigued, as it is quite rare to see belugas at this location this time of the year. She goes outside and discovers that it is not whitecaps playing tricks on them, but rather a beluga less than 100 metres from shore. The visitors claim they tallied at least 6 of them. A few days earlier and farther upstream, six fin whales break the horizon. Did they reach the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park? In any case, dozens of fin whales are identified through photos.

    Off the coast of Tadoussac, the first newborn belugas swim awkwardly with their mothers. Even more than usual, female and young belugas require peace and quiet to make it through the first few weeks of the calves’ lives. If you opt for a trip out to sea, consider the belugas’ well-being by maintaining your distance.

    This map represents an order of magnitude rather than a comprehensive survey. It is to use for fun!

    Legend for the whales

    Dark grey: Fin Whale
    Black: Right Whale
    Turquoise: Humpback Whale
    Dark blue: Blue Whale
    Light grey: Minke Whale

    Yellow: Unknown species

    Legend for the dolphins

    Light grey: Beluga
    Brown: Harbour Porpoise

    Legend for the seals

    Grey: Grey Seal
    Brown: Harp Seal
    Turquoise: Harbour Seal


    Marie-Ève ​​Muller is responsible for GREMM’s communications. As Editor-in-Chief for Whales Online, she devours research and has an insatiable thirst for the stories of scientists and observers. Drawing from her background in literature and journalism, Marie-Ève ​​strives to put the fragile reality of cetaceans into words and images.