Eubalaena glacialis – juvenile
From the bulletin Portrait de baleines, July-23-15
Exceptionally this week, we present a visitor unknown to the Marine Park. It is the North Atlantic right whale observed on the afternoon of July 10 near Île Rouge. The individual – a juvenile at least one year old – is not known and is not in the catalogue maintained by the New England Aquarium. In this species, it is the pattern of calluses on the head and chin that are used to identify the individual. The white, yellow or orange colouring of these skin outgrowths is due to the presence of different species of whale lice that infest and feed on the skin.
Over the past decade, an increase in the number of calves has been observed. The population is currently estimated at around 500 individuals; in the late 1990s, it was approximately 300. Is this the result of a change in the ecosystem that may have improved the food conditions of this species? Rerouted shipping lanes in Canada and on the East Coast of the US have also helped reduce the number of right whale mortalities.
This season, there have been up to 19 right whale sightings in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence, including two in the Marine Park. Some of these observations might represent sightings of the same individual. Of these observations, three cases of mortality have been recorded. The carcass observed drifting off Gaspé on July 9 was too badly decomposed to allow for identification. On July 13, a carcass adrift near the Magdalen Islands was identified by the New England Aquarium; it was 3923, a young 6-year-old female. Lastly, the carcass found off Percé on June 24, “Piper”, underwent a necropsy and his skeleton was recovered. Eventually, you will be able to see it on display at the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre in Tadoussac.
This population is slowly recovering from intensive whaling that brought it to the brink of extinction. It is still considered endangered. If you see one, please maintain a distance of at least 400 m.