A polar cold snap swept across Quebec this week, bringing with it blustery winds, thick fog and fresh snow, adding to the province’s already pristine winter blanket. The St. Lawrence is slowly being enveloped by the season, gradually donning a welcome layer of ice after the latter was absent in 2021.

These harsh conditions kept many mariners ashore and somewhat hampered observation conditions for marine mammals. Nevertheless,  sixty harbour seals were seen in Gaspé Bay this week, as the bay is now covered with ice, as well as a few grey seals in Franquelin.

No whales?

This newly formed ice cover in some areas seems to be keeping cetaceans away from the coast, making it impossible to catch sight of any spouts on the horizon. However, this is not synonymous with a complete absence of whales! A local resident spotted a minke whale and a harbour porpoise from the shores of Godbout, where the ice is still very thin. “This is the first time I’ve seen this in the middle of January!” he exclaims.

Usually at this time of year, it is not uncommon to see blue whales in the St. Lawrence. In 2021, however, they were rare all year, a trend that seems to be carrying over into 2022. No blue whales have been spotted for several weeks, raising certain questions about their distribution. For example, are they less numerous, or is the lack of observations due to the stubborn weather impeding trips out to sea?

Be that as it may, even if the presence of ice is not ideal for admiring marine life in the Estuary or in the Gulf, it is being welcomed with a certain enthusiasm by the scientific community. It should be recalled that this ice plays an important role in these ecosystems. Amongst other things, it helps protect the coast from erosion and regulate the circulation of ocean waters as well as the air temperature, in addition to providing an essential resting area for pinnipeds.

In the absence of whales, let’s enjoy the splendid winter landscapes of the St. Lawrence!

Do you enjoy scanning the waters every chance you get? Become an observer for Whales Online!

In order to continue to feed our “Observations of the Week” column, we need to recruit new volunteer observers who can relay to us their weekly encounters with marine mammals. More precisely, we are looking for individuals based in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region and downstream of Sept-Îles. Interested? Drop us a line at [email protected].

Observation of the Week - 13/1/2022

Elisabeth Guillet Beaulieu

Elisabeth Guillet-Beaulieu joined GREMM’s scientific editorial team in the early fall of 2021. Her boundless love for marine biology and aquatic environments from a young age ultimately led her to pursue a career in science. With a bachelor’s degree in biology, this nature and conservation enthusiast joined the Whales Online team in the hope of sharing her contagious passion for marine mammals while completing her master’s in the environment and sustainable development.

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