Tiny Fish Fall Prey to Teeth and Baleen

  • © Mathieu Marzelière
    07 / 06 / 2019 Par Marie-Ève Muller

    Nearshore reports of “large whales” picked up in intensity this week. In Godbout, in Quebec’s Côte-Nord region, humpback whales venture close to shore for a feast of capelin, judging by subsequent observations of this species “rolling” on the beaches. Many birds take advantage of the whales’ prey-gathering strategies to pick off a few fish at the surface. Although this time we witness the birds reaping some of the whales’ harvest, sometimes it is the whales that take advantage of the birds’ presence. In British Columbia, researchers have documented a rather peculiar technique. The humpbacks remain motionless with their mouth wide open, forming a large dark chasm that fish gravitate toward in search of a refuge from the repeated attacks of the birds. The whales need only swallow the unfortunate runaways.

    From Havre-Saint-Pierre come reports of surface feeding minke whales as well as grey seals.

    On June 1, the waters off the coast of Sept-Îles are boiling with activity. Observers in the area note six blue whales, ten fin whales, minke whales, a harbour porpoise, harp seals, dozens of scattered harbour seals and five humpbacks. Among the humpbacks is a mother-calf duo. The female is identified by the Mingan Islands Cetacean Study from photos taken by Jacques Gélineau: it is H890. Also in Sept-Îles, on June 5, across the horizon there’s not a spout to be seen. Have all the prey headed out to sea, and with them, the whales?

    In Gaspé Bay, humpbacks are seen by the dozens, and the large spouts of fin whales and blue whales tease shore-bound observers. Near the pier of Bonaventure island, a humpback whale breaches multiple time on June 6.

    As they kick off their field season in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, volunteer research assistants from the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM) learn the art of photographing large rorquals in order to identify them. They happily watch the surface feeding moves of fin whales, which, mouths agape, show their cream-coloured baleen on one side and black on the other. This asymmetrical colouration is one of the characteristic features of the species. A mother-calf minke whale pair is even filmed by a cruise ship operator. Both animals seem to be surfing in the waves.

    In Saint-Fabien, in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region, one observer is surprised to come across two feeding belugas surrounded by eiders and gulls. The small fish are flailing in the birds’ bills, just like they likely do between the teeth of belugas.

    And, lastly, here is a map of the observations reported this week! It gives an idea of the presence of whales and does not at all represent the actual distribution of whales in the St. Lawrence. 

    Click on the whale or the seal icon to find out more about the corresponding observation (specie, number of individuals, info, pictures). To enlarge the map, click on the top right corner icon. 

    To see the list of the observations, click on the top left corner. 

    This map represents an order of magnitude rather than a comprehensive survey.

    Legend for the whales

    Dark grey: Fin Whale
    Black: Right Whale
    Turquoise: Humpback Whale
    Dark blue: Blue Whale
    Light grey: Minke Whale

    Yellow: Unknown species

    Legend for the dolphins

    Light grey: Beluga
    Brown: Harbour Porpoise

    Legend for the seals

    Grey: Grey Seal
    Brown: Harp Seal
    Turquoise: Harbour Seal