Taken from the newsletter Portrait de baleines, July 19, 2017
A text from Audrey Tawell-Thibert
After having been absent from the Estuary sector since 2012, Siam (H007) is back! He arrived in our area directly from the Gaspé Peninsula, where his presence was reported on June 29. Researchers took advantage of his visit to the peninsula to fit him with a suction-cup tag. This small device, combined with the use of a drone to capture aerial images, will enable scientists at the Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS) and the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) to learn more about Siam’s overall health.
This humpback has been known for a long time: the first encounter dates back to 1981, when Tadoussac fishermen photographed him off Pointe à la Carriole. Since then, his visits to our area have been somewhat sporadic, Siam preferring in certain years the Gaspé and Mingan Archipelago region over the Estuary. A peculiar colour pattern under the tail, where two cat eyes seem to be popping out, have earned him the name “Siam”, in reference to the well known Siamese breed of felines.
H007 belongs to the humpback whale population of the North Atlantic. The males of this population congregate every year in the Caribbean and sing harmonious songs as a reproductive strategy. Their vocal repertoire is fascinating: long and short segments intertwine, punctuated by silences and repetitions, all structured according to a calculated hierarchy. Researchers have attempted to dissect humpback whale serenades into “themes” that appear in a specific order, each of which seems to consist of a few repeated “phrases”, the duration of which varies between 20 and 40 seconds. Ten minutes of varied songs might pass before the humpback returns to its core “theme”.
On the other hand, a transfer of cultural heritage has been observed in some cetaceans, including humpbacks. Within each population, males conform to a specific song composed of “themes” following a specific sequence. A study conducted between 1998 and 2008 on numerous humpback whale populations in the Pacific Ocean revealed the existence of a so-called horizontal cultural transmission – either intergenerational or between individuals of the same age group without family ties – of these melodious sequences, which appears to follow an east-west trajectory.
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Taken from the newsletter Portrait de baleines, August 9, 2012
The patriarch. This humpback was long the only member of its species to travel up the St. Lawrence as far as Tadoussac. Every year from 1981 to 1994, he would make brief incursions into the area. Subsequently, he was absent for many years, consistently frequenting the Mingan region and the Gaspé. He was seen again in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park in 2001 and has been returning regularly ever since, and staying longer than he had in the past. This year, he arrived in the area in late June. Since then, he has been observed sometimes alone, sometimes with another humpback, whether it be Blizzard, Irisept or Aramis.
This adult male is registered in the catalogue of North Atlantic humpback whales, which comprises just over 7000 individuals. Managed by the College of the Atlantic’s Allied Whale research group, this catalogue contains photos taken by various researchers, both in the summer feeding grounds and on winter reproduction sites. According to sources, Siam has probably been identified in winter in the Caribbean, off the coast of Puerto Rico. A male like him probably makes the trip every year: 5,000 km in the fall to spend the winter singing and fighting other males in the clear southern waters in order to have the opportunity to mate with a female! In spring, he must travel 5,000 km to the cold but productive waters of the St. Lawrence in order to stock up on his fat reserves in preparation for the following reproduction season.
In 1981, it was by chance that Tadoussac residents first encountered Siam in a rowboat off the coast of Pointe à la Carriole. This is when offshore whale-watching excursions were in their infancy. This “amateur” photo would later become an invaluable piece of scientific data!