Associate Professor at the Département de pathologie et microbiologie vétérinaire de l’Université de Montréal
An in-depth look at beluga whales
Veterinarian Daniel Martineau developed an interest in belugas in the early 1980s while navigating the waters of the St. Lawrence and Saguenay rivers aboard his sailboat. The white whales that approached his boat piqued his curiosity. While he was attending a conference on beluga whales by David Sergeant at l’Université de Rimouski in 1982, a beluga carcass washed ashore near Pointe-au-Père. Accompanied by David Sergeant and Pierre Béland, he observed an entire beluga whale for the first time. The animal showed no signs of injury, with the exception of scrapes caused by gravel and seabirds. What, then, had this animal died of? For Daniel Martineau there was but one way to get to the truth: the carcass would have to undergo an in-depth examination. Thus began a vast
project to study St. Lawrence beluga whales through the carcass recovery network and post-mortem examinations. This study has been underway for over 20 years now and several scientists have joined the ranks in an attempt to determine what St. Lawrence belugas die from.
Daniel Martineau is now Associate Professor at the Département de pathologie et microbiologie vétérinaire de l’Université de Montréal. He obtained his degree in veterinary medicine in 1976 and went on to earn a master’s degree at the Université de Montréal by the end of the 1980s. He completed his doctorate at Cornell University in 1992 and also obtained a diploma from the American College of Veterinary Pathologists. His field of study is not limited to disease and the effects of pollution on St. Lawrence belugas; he also maintains a general interest in fauna and has developed an expertise with respect to tumours in fish.
The post-mortem examinations conducted by Daniel Martineau and his team have lifted a veil on the St. Lawrence beluga’s state of health. A general alarm has been sounded and conservation efforts are now better oriented to the needs of this fragile population.