August 30, 2016: a long 10-hour day out on the water. Eighty-five nautical miles cruising along the south and north shores of the Lower Estuary did not provide us with an over-abundance of observations. Together with my teammate, our objective was to find the group of humpbacks that had cruised from the Mingan Archipelago to Sept-Îles and then to Pointe-des-Monts. We hoped to spot them between Franquelin and Godbout. Our efforts were in vain.
Along the way we encountered numerous seabirds, including several phalarope, terns, gulls and an impressive number of Manx shearwaters. Unfortunately, no large whales, however.
Having nearly come full circle back to our starting point in Matane, I see in the rays of the setting sun a large spout far in the distance. We change course, guestimating our direction and distance, hopeful of relocating it on this extraordinarily calm sea. As expected, a few minutes later, we hear its powerful blast a few metres from our boat. At first the animal appears skittish (just three breaths per sequence), but quickly becomes calmer during its subsequent surfacings. Perhaps it recognized me, I tell myself. It’s a male that I’ve been familiar with since I first saw him in 2004 and have observed regularly thereafter. Its characteristic very white dorsal leaves no doubt: it’s Blanco. I had not seen him since 2010 when he was passing through the Matane area. Coincidentally, it was also on August 30, 6 years ago to the day and also off the coast of Petit-Matane. What a sweet consolation prize!
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.