Out on the water, the mild conditions over the last few days have allowed for the observation of a number of marine mammals, including one species that rarely ventures into the estuary: the white-beaked dolphin. The narwhal made a second appearance in the company of a group of belugas, and humpback whales continued to make incursions into the Saguenay. In short, exceptional sightings of marine mammals and gorgeous weather with a hint of autumn in the air… What more could one ask for?
Dolphins, narwhals and humpbacks
On Tuesday, September 6, the research team from the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM) was on the water for the large rorqual whale monitoring program. At the end of the day, about 3 or 4 nautical miles off the coast of Îlets Boisés near Les Escoumins, the crew members had the opportunity to observe a pod of 8 white-beaked dolphins. Although this species of dolphin can be mistaken for the other species present in the St. Lawrence, the Atlantic white-sided dolphin, the two are nevertheless very different. White-sided dolphins have thin white streaks along their flanks, which are replaced by a blaze of ochre extending to the tail fin. They were also observed this week in Gaspé Bay. White-beaked dolphins, on the other hand, have a white-tipped rostrum as well as white and light grey patches on their back.
The enigmatic narwhal was observed for the second time this season on September 7, near Île Rouge. “We saw it! It was with a group of large belugas,” says one of GREMM’s research assistants. “I had the chance to take several photos. We wanted to see the narwhal, but also its fellow belugas, since we are trying to identify which individuals it associates with most.” Belugas were observed this week in the Saguenay Fjord – from Pointe Noire in Baie-Sainte-Catherine to Baie Sainte-Marguerite in Sacré-Coeur – a group of 15 white backs were seen in Les Escoumins and three individuals were spotted off Trois-Pistoles.
With humpbacks being observed in the Saguenay this week, one wildlife photographer had the opportunity to capture some magnificent shots from Pointe de l’Islet in Tadoussac. First she observed the breaths of two humpbacks against a golden backdrop created by the sunset. “A little later, I saw the animals closing their mouths under the moonlight; it was magical!” she exclaims. I’ve never seen that before. I showed up an hour late to the party I had planned to attend, but it was well worth it.”
These cetaceans were also seen in several places along the North Shore, from Tadoussac to the MinganArchipelago as well as in Gaspésie. In Sainte-Madeleine-de-la-Rivière-Madeleine on September 3, one observer saw an individual showing its pectoral fins and tail before disappearing over the horizon. In Port-au-Persil near Saint-Siméon, a seasoned marine mammal enthusiast had the good fortune to see a humpback whale: “It was about 10 metres from the edge of the docks. It was the first one I’ve seen this summer, but I wasn’t expecting one to show up at this location!”
Sunfish, porpoises and fin whales
The sighting of an ocean sunfish near the Forillon cliffs in the Gaspé Peninsula is part of a remarkable week of observations for a naturalist/captain from Gaspé Bay. “It’s a really big fish, with enormous fins,” he says. “They are very slow and it is rather rare to be able to observe them on the surface, as they do not come to breathe like whales, but probably more to feed, I think.” Also known as the common mola, this species is the heaviest bony fish in the world, with some individuals measuring up to two metres long and weighing over 1,000 kilos. “There were also sightings of humpback whales every day, as well as harbour porpoises and dolphins,” he adds, “but no fin or blue whales.”
Porpoises have been observed in good numbers in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park. On September 5, near Essipit, several porpoises were seen swimming offshore when a fin whale came to the surface to breathe. In Franquelin, a marine mammal aficionado shares her joy: “Porpoises, minke whales, grey and harbour seals are still present. And to complete the show, a fin whale was seen diving about 1 km from shore under the setting sun.”
Minke whales and seals are still present throughout the St. Lawrence. As per the Tadoussac Bird Observatory, the start of fall migration translates into action along the coast and the observation of a multitude of bird species. Now more than ever, the river banks are a wonderful place to enjoy nature.
Weekly sighting map
These data were reported by our network of observers. The observations give a rough idea of the presence of whales, but do not in any way represent the true distribution of cetaceans in the St. Lawrence. Enjoy!
Click on the whale or seal icons to see the species, number of individuals observed, additional information or photos of the sighting. To zoom in on the map, click on the icon in the upper right corner. The map works well on Chrome and Firefox, but less so on Safari.
To display the list of observations, click on the icon in the upper left corner.