Dozens of Atlantic white-sided dolphins, a late humpback, a minke whale here, belugas there… There’s so much marine fauna in the St. Lawrence this November that it almost feels like one of those action-packed weeks of July. However, with the snow piling up, ice gradually taking hold and sightings becoming less frequent, we are nevertheless starting to feel the rapid onset of winter.

Teeming with dolphins!

While it is common to observe dolphins moving in large pods numbering in the dozens in the St. Lawrence Estuary during the summer, this time of year, these small cetaceans are generally more discreet. However, around sixty white-sided dolphins were reported off Les Bergeronnes one morning!

This species is not known to undergo seasonal migrations, though north-south movements are regularly observed. The prolonged presence of these small whales in the estuary this fall gives us the chance to once again admire their striking colours and vivacious swimming.

A late rorqual

A humpback whale that arrived in the estuary late last October also seems to want to extend its stay in the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park. This is believed to be the first time this particular individual has visited the St. Lawrence. In the middle of his marine fauna watch from Cap de Bon-Désir, a wildlife photographer was surprised to spot a large rorqual: “While watching some belugas offshore through my binoculars, all of a sudden I heard a loud spout not too far away. It was a humpback emerging from the depths. After a few breaths, it took one last plunge, tail in the air, and raced westward.”

In recent years, humpbacks have lingered in the estuary longer and longer, with some individuals seemingly in no hurry to leave the St. Lawrence. They are mostly young males that have not yet reached sexual maturity. Will this humpback continue to be observed in the estuary much longer? We’ll soon find out!

Porpoises, seals and belugas

From Les Escoumins, a few harbour porpoises and harbour seals have been spotted offshore. In Tadoussac, with snowflakes falling from the sky, belugas were seen working their way down the Saguenay Fjord. Also this week, while sorting through photos taken last summer, a research assistant came across some funny images of a harbour seal on its back.

In Franquelin, one marine mammal enthusiast had the chance to see a humpback whale in action: “On Sunday, a humpback passed by the coast of Franquelin. I saw it blow two or three times off Pointe-à-la-Croix before it continued on its way toward the gulf.” A minke whale was also reported near the coast, while harbour porpoises seem to be quietly leaving the area.

In Gaspé, six harbour seals were spotted on the ice near the mouth of the York River. Another harbour seal – often seen at this location – was lazing quietly on a rock in the cove known as Anse-aux-Cousins. Considering how late in the season it is, we can say that this wraps up another exciting week of observations!

Thanks to all our collaborators!

Special thanks go out to all our observers who share their love for marine mammals with us! Whether it’s every week or just a few times throughout the summer, the stories of your encounters with cetaceans and pinnipeds are always a pleasure to read and discover.

On the water or from shore, it is your eyes that give life to this column.

Laetitia Desbordes
Élizabeth Mélis
Diane Ostiguy
Renaud Pintiaux
Pascal Pitre
Andréanne Sylvain
Marielle Vanasse

And all those we left out!

Additionally, we would like to acknowledge the following teams that also share their sightings:
Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS)
Marine Mammal Observation Network (ROMM)
Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network (QMMERN)
Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM)

Would you also like to share your observations?

Have you seen any marine mammals in the St. Lawrence? Whether it’s a spout offshore or just a couple of seals, drop us a line and send your photos to [email protected]!

Observation of the Week - 30/11/2023

Andréanne Forest

Andréanne Forest is the editor-in-chief of Whales Online since may 2022. After studying in environment and biology, she turned to science communication with the goal of making science both accessible and fun. Andréanne wishes to highlight the process of acquiring knowledge while transmitting the desire to learn.

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