Can the great whales of the Estuary tell us where they are?

The St. Lawrence Estuary is an area where a good number of whales come to feed and where thousands of curious tourists converge to observe them. Is it possible to use sound to describe the critical habitats of the endangered blue whale and of the fin whale—a species targeted by the whale-watching industry?

bat-BPJ100810_1059-grm-660

  • Humpback whale with several boats in the St-Lawrence estuary
  • Photo credit: © GREMM

To go through the looking glass

This project, launched in 2002, uses passive acoustics (hydrophones) to record whale sounds along with other sounds in the St. Lawrence, such as boat noise. Some of these recordings are made from aboard ships. As of 2002, further recordings have been made in a more intensive manner using the new AURAL M1: autonomous recording instruments developed by the Fisheries and Oceans Canada chair in applied marine acoustics for research into resources and the ecosystem at the Institut des sciences de la mer (ISMER) based at the Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR). It is possible to determine the position of a sound source using a network of hydrophones. Researchers also note whale and ship positions from shore for comparison between hydrophone recordings and visual observations.

In short

A wide variety of sound recordings have been made over the years, particularly in the Saguenay—St. Lawrence Marine Park area. These recordings include the vocalizations of several species, notably blue whales, fin whales, minke whales and beluga whales. Researchers have also recorded sounds produced by a wide variety of boats—including Zodiacs, whale-watching boats, research boats and cargo ships—along with sounds produced by wind and waves. This data will be used in various ISMER projects aimed at studying whales and the acoustic environment of the St. Lawrence Estuary. Through long-term, continuous, around the clock recording, researchers will be attempting to describe how great whales make use of critical habitat, among other things.

Project collaborators

Yvan Simard, Maurice-Lamontagne Institute (MLI) and Director of the Fisheries and Oceans Canada chair in applied marine acoustics for research into resources and the ecosystem at the Institut des sciences de la mer (ISMER) based at the Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR), Nathalie Roy, MLI, Flore Samaran and Chatherine Bédard, M.Sc. students at the ISMER and UQAR.