..to late November. Our collaborator in Franquelin sees her first harp seal of the winter. In the following weeks, she would see some of these groups of northern seals again. Indeed, with the arrival of winter, harp seals return from higher latitudes to spend the season in the waters of the St. Lawrence. After calving, they will depart in spring to ice-laden subarctic and arctic waters to feed.
Also at this time of the year, gray seals take advantage of the cold, rich waters of the Estuary to feed before moving to their winter reproduction and calving areas in the southern part of the Gulf of St Lawrence. Several individuals were seen in the North Shore region, one of which was even seen feasting on a thorny skate! This observation was reported to us by our collaborator Renaud Pintiaux who, the week before, described to us his observation of dozens of harbour seals adjacent to the clay cliffs in Tadoussac.
Harbour seals and belugas are the only two marine mammals that reside in the St. Lawrence year round. Of course, belugas head to other regions once winter sets in, but in recent weeks they have still been spotted in several sectors within their summer grounds: the Saguenay Fjord, the head of the Laurentian Channel (between Les Escoumins and Les Bergeronnes) and near Île aux Coudres.
In sight, two large spouts…
…powerfully blown by two fin whales on December 5. The two giants are off Cap de Bon-Désir in Les Bergeronnes. Three other fin whales are also present in the same area. On December 4, two large spouts were seen off Cap-des-Rosiers in the Gaspé. Whether they were fin whales or blue whales remains a mystery. There’s no doubt, however, regarding the presence of a blue whale off of Les Bergeronnes on December 2. The shape and height of the blow, the colour and the observation of the tail helped identify the species. Another tail was spotted on December 5 from the same promontory, but this time it was a humpback whale. Humpbacks typically raise their tails out of the water when they dive. In fact, the markings and colour patterns of the tail are what is used to identify them. In the blue whales that frequent the St. Lawrence, only certain individuals (about 15-18%) lift their tails.
Speaking of blue whales, Argos satellite tags were placed on the backs of several individuals in the Estuary earlier this fall. The project notably aims to fill the knowledge gap on areas heavily used by this species, which constitute the critical habitat of the North Atlantic blue whale population. This week, the team at the Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS) published the recent journeys of two blue whales on its Facebook page (Dec. 8). This study, spearheaded by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and carried out in collaboration with the MICS team and researcher Russ Andrews of the Alaska SeaLife Center, is in its fifth year.