Tic Tac Toe

Taken from the newsletter Portrait de baleines, July 7, 2017

By Audrey Tawel-Thibert

For this first issue, who could be better than Tic Tac Toe, an “old” acquaintance of captains and naturalists of the Marine Park, the Gaspé and the Mingan Islands for over 15 years! Here she is, back in one of her favourite feeding areas: the head of the Laurentian Channel. Her signature: a clearly visible cross on the right lobe of her tail.

© Otionos

© Otionos

Where is she coming from? Possibly from a long migration of about 7,000 km. Humpbacks of the North Atlantic mate and calve in the warm, shallow waters of the Caribbean and Cape Verde, an island nation off of West Africa. Their faithfulness to their migration routes, winter breeding grounds and summer feeding grounds makes it easy to monitor these whales worldwide. The humpback “courtship season” is the most studied of all whales.

But before mating takes place properly speaking, competition between males in the form of aggressive battles takes place. They also sing to attract females, establish a hierarchy or a certain degree of cooperation. Eleven months later, a calf is born. It drinks his mother’s fat-rich milk, about 43 litres a day, and grows bigger every day (3 cm/day). It never strays more than a body-length away from its mother. The duo is sometimes escorted by a male.

The young humpback will be weaned around the age of 10 months. However, life with its mother will not end there. It will remain with her for a year, maybe two, to acquire basic hunting skills and learn other elements essential to its survival. Indeed, this maternal care is the longest of any of the baleen whales. It will also discover the long journey to be made to summer grounds such as the St. Lawrence.

Tic Tac Toe has made this long journey at least twice accompanied by her offspring: in 2007 with the female named Aramis – seen every year since 2007! – and with the female H797 in 2012. Might she have given birth since then? Will we see her again with a calf? A young individual was seen near her this week. However, there is no indication at this time that it is one of her own. To be continued!

Learn more:

humpback whale data sheet


Taken from the newsletter Portrait de baleines, July 3, 2014

The first of the great cetaceans to arrive this season and oh-so restless! She was observed on May 3 between Tadoussac and Les Bergeronnes during the GREMM research team’s first trips out to sea, then on May 12 in the Gaspé by a member of the team (also by the MICS team) and again in the Marine Park on May 28.

Of the two calves that were seen accompanying this female, now 16.5 years old (born in the winter of 1997-1998 in Caribbean waters), one was observed just once, in 2012; since then, no trace of it in 2013 or 2014 in the Estuary, nor in the Gulf according to MICS, which oversees the St. Lawrence humpback whale catalogue.

In October researchers published satellite tracking of the migration of 22 North Atlantic humpbacks that departed the Caribbean at the end of winter. To reach their summer quarters where they feed, some whales headed toward the East Coast of the United States en route to Canada, while others travelled 7000 km to Iceland and Norway. They swim at an average speed of 4.3 km/h, compared to 1.7 km/h in their winter reproduction grounds. Females accompanied by a calf swim more slowly than solitary females.

After a long winter

Whether you’re a migratory rorqual or a human being living according to the seasons, it’s always a delight to return to one’s summer stomping grounds. Each and all are hard at it to feed, to observe, to dream, to understand. To better understand the beauty of the St. Lawrence Lower Estuary, the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, its finned inhabitants and visitors. To better understand these mammals in order to better protect them, which, like the habitats they depend on, are fragile.