B197, or “Pleiades”
From the bulletin Whale Portraits, August 4, 2017
A text by Audrey Tawel-Thibert
A column-shaped spout over six metres high, a body reaching up to a phenomenal 27 metres and bluish-gray in colour with dark speckling: even at a considerable distance, it’s hard to be mistaken… it’s the imposing blue whale! The long-awaited return of this giant to our waters is confirmed, with two individuals having recently been seen. It was on July 23, in Les Escoumins, that our research assistant photographed them. The identity of one of them is soon confirmed: it is B197, a female who in fact is featured in the catalogue of St. Lawrence blue whales kept by the Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS), under the name “Pleiades”. There’s just one way to recognize her, and that is to carefully scrutinize her colour pattern.
In 2006, telemetric monitoring was carried out on her within the framework of the large rorqual monitoring project. The suction-cup tag, which held for 24 hours, provided insight into her diving behaviour. Then, in 2008, B197 really stirred up the industry and researchers when she returned with a calf… an extremely rare event, as it was just the 17th blue whale calf documented in the St. Lawrence since 1979!
B197’s visits to our sector have been rather irregular since her first stint here in 1988. Where does she go? She seems to prefer the waters off the Gaspé Peninsula. She was seen in 2004 at Cap de Grosses-Roches, in 2012 off L’Anse-à-Valleau and in 2015 off the northern coast of the Gaspé Peninsula. The migratory patterns of blue whales are still very much an enigma. However, a study led by Véronique Lesage published this year revealed a considerable portion of the seasonal movements of the North Atlantic blue whale population through satellite tracking. The tags deployed in early autumn by the research team, introduced into the fat or the cartilage of the dorsal fin of 24 animals, were mainly aimed at better identifying the areas used by the species in winter to “refuel” and reproduce. Impressive factoid: Symphonie (B244) remained in US waters between mid-December and mid-February, and returned to Canadian waters in mid-March… she travelled a total of 11,918 km during this migration! Substantial results to further shed light on the lives of these fragile mastodons.