Eubalaena incognita

Taken from the newsletter Portrait de baleines, August 21, 2002

Exceptionally, we present to you a whale that has yet to be identified. It’s a North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) that paid us an incognito visit on Friday August 16, 2002. In the course of an early afternoon cruise, several whale-watching boats were able to observe this individual. It was first seen at Buoy S4, where it slapped its tail and pectoral fin against the water. Subsequently it swam to Buoy K56, then swam along Batture aux Alouettes toward K58, where observers finally lost trace of it. It should be noted that the observation conditions were particularly challenging, with high winds and a lot of waves. Who was it? Analysis of the photos taken by a naturalist might answer our question. Stay tuned!

It was in 1998 that the presence of right whales in the St. Lawrence Estuary was documented for the first time since the days of the Basques. On Friday, July 31 of that year, two individuals paid a visit off the coast of Les Bergeronnes. They may have been spotted again the following day from Cap de Bon-Désir. On August 22, the Estuary received yet another visit from two right whales. This time, photos allowed for identification of the individuals. The reference catalogue of the New England Aquarium in Massachusetts contains photos of nearly all North Atlantic right whales… including our two visitors. One bears the number 1226. It is an adult male first encountered in 1979 in the Bay of Fundy. The other whale, number 1407, is a female who was first observed in 1980. She has borne three known calves and has been seen in Florida, in Georgia, in Massachusetts Bay and in the Bay of Fundy. Was our anonymous visitor one of these two travellers coming back to greet us?

For the past several years, right whales have been regularly observed in the vicinity of Percé and in the Mingan region. Moreover, this summer, several right whales (up to seven counted) have been present around Percé since mid-July. Another one has been frequenting the Mingan region since July 30. Do these observations represent signs of recovery for this endangered species? Historically, right whales had been abundant in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Basques hunted them perhaps as far upriver as the Estuary. Was our incognito making a side pilgrimage to his ancestral grounds?

There are less than 350 right whales in the North Atlantic. Right whales can be recognized by their V-shaped spout, white callosities on their head, absence of a dorsal fin and their notched black tail which can be seen whenever they dive. They are particularly threatened by boat collisions. Indeed, they are slow, difficult to see, and seemingly indifferent to the presence of boats. It is important to immediately report any right whale sighting by calling 418-235-4701. Thank you!

Learn more:

north atlantic right whale data sheet