Taken from the newsletter Portrait de baleines, August 25, 2011
Nicknamed “mother of all belugas” of the St. Lawrence, Slash (identification code Dl 004) is a female easily recognizable by the large diagonal mark on her right side. This matriarch is believed to be at least 39 years old, as she was already white when she was first photo-ID’d in 1980 by beluga research pioneer Leone Pippard. Indeed, the all white colour and sexual maturity that goes with it are not attained until the age of 8; life expectancy in the species is about 60 years. Slash has been seen with numerous young throughout the years, though not necessarily her own offspring, as she may have ceased reproducing: data obtained from beluga hunting seem to indicate a drop-off in reproductive activity in females from the age of 23 or 24.
This summer, the GREMM research team spotted Slash on August 1 in a group of 15 to 20 individuals composed of adult females, young and calves. She was swimming near another female who was accompanied by her first-year calf. The group seemed to be heading toward Baie Sainte-Marguerite, a habitat deemed to be critical for the belugas of the Saguenay, especially mothers and their calves. The popularity of this bay amongst belugas – despite the 20 long kilometres they have to swim up the Fjord to reach it – remains a bit of an enigma. Slash is regularly seen from shore from the Pointe-Noire Observation Centre (Parks Canada) and the observatory at Baie Sainte-Marguerite (Parcs Québec).
The St. Lawrence beluga is a threatened population. The Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park was created among other reasons to protect part of its summer habitat.