Every year, when the month of April kicks off in the Haute-Côte-Nord region, an indescribable emotion begins to flow through the veins of every cetacean enthusiast, including myself. When I contemplate the St. Lawrence in anticipation of the arrival of the first whales, I can feel this excitement and the promises of spring. The start of a new season of observations and discovery.

First encounters, first emotions

These past few days have lived up to their promises. Let’s go in chronological order:

April 4: I’m posted at the top of the dunes in Tadoussac. Far offshore, I spot a large blast. I excitedly raise my binoculars to my eyes and see the whale dive after taking several breaths. My first fin whale of the year!

April 6: This time I’m on the rocks of Cap de Bon-Désir (a little piece of paradise between Les Bergeronnes and Les Escoumins). Before my eyes, my first minke whale of the year breaks the water surface. I’m able to take a few pictures of this individual, which shows a conspicuous notch in its dorsal fin. Perhaps a researcher will be able to identify it?

Last to leave, first to return?

And on April 11, the icing on the cake in a moment of pure bliss! Once again near Cap de Bon-Désir, where I spend part of my days, a big balloon-shaped spout… my first humpback of 2022! It did not show its tail when it dove. All the same! An emotional, spine-tingling moment, as you can imagine.

Nevertheless, I’m able to take a few pictures of this animal’s dorsal fin, and that evening while analyzing my photos… surprise! Indeed, the individual that I photographed on April 11, 2022 is the same one that I shot with my camera on December 9, 2021… in exactly the same place! I recognize its characteristic dorsal fin. It must have not gone too far this winter! Perhaps it is a young male (still not very imposing in size) that, not feeling an urgent need given his age to reach the species’ breeding grounds in the South, preferred to stay in the St. Lawrence this winter. It probably spent the coldest months in ice-free areas. And here it is, already back in Haute-Côte-Nord!

This individual – a young humpback hitherto unknown to researchers – does not yet have a name or official catalogue number. Therefore, for the time being it is being nicknamed INCONNU 47 in my 2021 catalogue and NiCA 58 in GREMM’s temporary catalogue.

Snow white

Belugas have also been present in the area for a few weeks now. Also on April 11, I photographed a large white beluga passing near the ferry docks in Les Escoumins.

I forward the photo to GREMM researchers who manage to identify this animal thanks to the details of its dorsal crest. This is a well-known individual: DL0098 alias CUMULUS, a veteran bull who is at least 54 years old! Check out its portrait for more exciting details about its life.

The call of the sea

So as you can see, over the past few weeks we’ve seen a fabulous and promising start to spring. In just over a month, whale-watching cruises will start up again. Once again this season, I will be on the water almost daily to live out my passion. My first outings toward the end of May will focus on seabirds.

The call of the sea is harder and harder to resist. In the meantime, I’m going to pace the shores and stay on the lookout for other spring arrivals…

Field Notes - 18/4/2022

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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