Taken from the newsletter Portrait de baleines, August 23, 2012
A female beluga undoubtedly getting on in years, Ondine has been known to GREMM researchers since 1990, when she was already entirely white. Observations, which had been regular until 1995, have shown that she belonged to the south shore community. Surprisingly, she was nearly always seen with Canadine: female belugas, unlike males, don’t generally form lasting associations with other individuals. In 1994, Ondine was accompanied by a first-year calf, and in 1995, a second-year calf.
After 1995, things changed: no sightings from 1995 to 2000, then only occasionally, never with Canadine and never again with a calf. In 2010, surprise: she’s photographed in Chaleur Bay! A few weeks later, she’s back at the head of the Laurentian Channel, emaciated. We would have to wait until August 2012 to hear from her again: several reports of an apparently ailing beluga drifting between Les Escoumins and Les Bergeronnes were received by the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network. On August 15, GREMM Research Director Robert Michaud travels to the Marine Environment Discovery Centre in Les Escoumins to document one of these reports: he confirms that it is Ondine and that she seems to be ill.
Is Ondine dying? If she soon succumbs, will we find her carcass and will it provide the answers to certain questions such as her age, health status, etc.? The beluga carcass recovery program, which has operated for 30 years, is an essential element for monitoring this population at risk. Notably, thanks to this program, the alarm has been sounded on belugas’ exposure to chemical contaminants, thereby triggering a citizen and government mobilization aimed at reducing pollution in the St. Lawrence.
Every report of a poorly faring beluga is invaluable and warrants a call to 1-877-722-5346. Ideally, call at the time of the observation. In the case of a live beluga, it is important to remain at least 400 m from the animal.