September 14, 2023 will remain a date forever engraved in my memory. It was a strange and surreal day,

Which I will try to summarize here in words and with my photos. The day begins with a southwesterly wind that would grow in intensity, slowly but surely. In the early morning we set out in search of humpback whales, which have been plentiful in our sector (between Tadoussac and Les Escoumins) in recent days.

The first individual we spot is Titlo (H919), who shows a hook-shaped dorsal fin and a very dark tail. The wind picks up and the waves grow larger. And then… It’s show time. Titlo make a first gigantic leap into the air before coming down with a thunderous splash. And this was really just the beginning. This individual would go on to perform more than 50 breaches at intervals of approximately 30 seconds…

The waves continue to swell with troughs of more than a metre and a half now. And then we realize that all the other humpbacks present in the area are also breaching!

Captains are talking about it on the radios: between Tadoussac and Les Escoumins, all of the humpbacks – more than ten of them – are on fire. It’s insane! There weren’t any humpbacks in groups, just lone individuals letting loose.

And they weren’t just breaching once! Each individual was jumping repeatedly. And I should point out that it would be like this the entire day. In the afternoon, troughs are up to three metres between each wave, not breaking waves, but rather slow waves with impressive troughs through which we are able to continue to operate at a reduced speed. We also observe Queen, Tic Tac Toe, Tingley’s calf and many others breaching in the distance.

Why hasn’t this madness ended as quickly as it began? It seems obvious to us that these long, rolling waves are the cause of this unusual and long-lasting frenzy. Indeed, the underwater swell created by the stiff winds may be interfering with the humpbacks’ ability to communicate. By breaching like this and crashing onto the water surface as they fall, the whales may be indicating their respective positions.

This is just a theory.

The mystery remains unsolved, and so much the better..

Field Notes - 11/10/2023

Renaud Pintiaux

GREMM research assistant from 2003 to 2009 and from 2012 to 2014, Renaud Pintiaux is a passionate observer and photographer. Year round, whether from shore or on the water, he takes every opportunity to observe marine mammals and birds in the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park.

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