By Renaud Pintiaux, naturalist and wildlife photographer

 

The whale-watching season in the waters between Tadoussac and Les Escoumins ended in early November. Need I remind you that it was an exceptional season, especially with such an abundance of humpbacks? Indeed, no fewer than 110 individuals were identified, which is unprecedented!


So I was a little sad that the field season had drawn to a close. Especially since between the last cruise and the end of November, I was able to see from shore – Cap de Bon-Désir in particular – a large number of big blasts far off the coast. Four humpbacks even passed close to shore on several occasions.

The call of the sea

And then, on November 25, I had the very good fortune to be able to go out in a Zodiac one last time with a couple of friends. We had the St. Lawrence practically to ourselves. Notwithstanding the waves and the southwest winds, it was a day to remember. More than seven nautical miles off the coast of Les Bergeronnes, we encounter over a dozen humpbacks. I take a few photos of several caudal fins in an attempt to identify these animals. As I pore over my pictures that evening, I realize that they are all individuals seen earlier in the season. And nearly all of these lingering humpbacks in our sector have not yet been entered into the catalog of St. Lawrence humpbacks maintained by the Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS), so these are undoubtedly young individuals that are in no hurry to reach their breeding grounds in the South.

humpback fluke
This young humpback whale is not listed in the research catalogs. © Renaud Pintiaux
humpback fluke and back
These humpback whales were observed swimming near each other. © Renaud Pintiaux
humpback breach
This humpback whale made about 15 consecutive jumps out of the water. © Renaud Pintiaux
humpback fluke
Despite the cold winter weather, some humpback whales are still in the St. Lawrence to feed. © Renaud Pintiaux
humpback breach
Renaud Pintiaux identified 110 humpback whales in the St. Lawrence this year. © Renaud Pintiaux

On the water, we’re enjoying some nice observations when all of a sudden we spot a humpback whale leaping into the air in the distance. After 5 breaches, we decide to approach this individual. We obviously maintain a good distance, letting the animal continue its spectacular display on the horizon for over half an hour. I’m able to take these photos with a big smile on my face.

Winter seals

But the day was still not over… The breaching humpback having calmed down, we continue our patrol. Suddenly, we see some commotion up ahead. Harp seals… over 300 of them! They energetically poke their heads (and sometimes part of their body) above the water, and after a few minutes, they are all diving in unison before disappearing altogether. Winter is right around the corner, and the arrival of these impressive herds of harp seals is proof of that.

We also observe a few minke whales en route. On this November day, evening falls far too quickly. The tourists are gone, the cruises are over, but marine mammals continue to indulge themselves in our area.

 

See you soon for our next field notes with winter observations… from the snowy shores of the Haute-Côte-Nord.

Field Notes - 3/12/2021

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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