In the Lower Estuary, it seems that fall is the best time to observe blue whales. Compared to other species, these whales always seem to be the last to return to the Estuary in decent numbers, at least according to my observations. We should ask the experts what the reason for this is. In these parts, these krill-eating whales are almost always observed in the Laurentian Channel in 300 m deep water, which also corresponds to the shipping channels.
On Friday, September 23, I headed out to sea from Rimouski. The course I took allowed me to observe eight different blue whales at close range, in the middle of the Channel. It was a rare occasion where I didn’t have to actively search for whales. While I’d be documenting one whale, I always had one or two spouts in reserve in the distance. Once I completed the photo-ID session with one animal, I turned to the next one and so on for the eight hours I spent at sea. Some whales were very cooperative, allowing me to complete my session in about twenty minutes or so. But for others, it took a couple of hours before they dared to show both flanks to my satisfaction. Indeed, it takes a quality photo from both sides of the animal to properly document it, and their dives were lasting 10 minutes on average.
These eight blue whales are regular in the Estuary, having been observed here for a number of years, and have been present in these waters for several days now. The most popular amongst observers in the Marine Park is Jaw-Breaker, a female known as a “fluker” due to her habit of lifting her tail when she dives, as well as the female Alacran, who had also been photographed last month by a fellow observer off the coast of Matane.
I also observed many white-sided dolphins – at least fifty – which always put on a great show. However, I didn’t see any fin, minke or beluga whales, which is quite surprising.
Autumn is also the time when one can observe “pairs”, that is to say two blue whales swimming and feeding together. I also had the opportunity to observe one such duo. According to expert Richard Sears, this pair, as he calls it, is composed of a female who is always positioned in front, and a male who swims behind her or at her side. They maintain their respective positions at all times. A few weeks ago, these two animals (B476 and B335) were also observed separately in the Marine Park by members of the GREMM team.
Here are a few photos from this action-packed day:
René Roy is an amateur cetologist who is passionate about the sea and whales; he resides in Pointe-au-Père, in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region. For the past few years, he has undertaken photo-identification expeditions for the Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS), mainly in the Gaspé. He also volunteers for the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network.