Taken from the newsletter Portrait de baleines, June 6, 2006
No, no right whales have been observed in the area of late! Our star of this week is a male named Snake Eyes (#1226), known to the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium since 1981. He was photographed in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park in 1998, the first confirmed sighting of this species in the area since the time of the Basques! He was back in the St. Lawrence, near Percé this time, last August. Around the same time, a few people thought they had spotted a right whale in the Estuary on a number of occasions, though were unable to provide confirmation. Had Snake Eyes returned to pay us a little visit here before going to get his picture snapped in the Gaspé?
The history of Snake Eyes provides a good excuse to recall the status of his species in the St. Lawrence. The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is one of the most threatened of all baleen whale species. Even today, after four centuries of intensive whaling, human activities continue to threaten its recovery. Notably, 38% of the mortalities of this species that occurred between 1986 and 2005 were attributable to boat collisions.
Right whales were rarely observed in the St. Lawrence, but since 1994, 32 different right whales (more than 10% of this endangered species!) were identified in the sector, especially in the Percé region, but also near the Mingan Archipelago, in the Magdalen Islands, in Chaleur Bay and in the Estuary. In 2005, five whales were identified in the Gaspé, including a mother with her young.
When observed at sea, right whales are characterized by a V-shaped spout, a broad black back with no dorsal fin and white callosities on the head. When they dive, their entirely black and deeply notched tail may be lifted vertically. They can be observed singly or in groups and can remain under water for 10 to 20 minutes.
If ever you think you see one of these whales in the area, stay alert, maintain a distance of at least 400 m and travel slowly to reduce the risks of collision. That’s not all: being that such a sighting is so invaluable, quickly inform (during the observation if possible) the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network at 1-877 7BALEINE (1-877-722-5346). Take photos: even from afar, they can be used to confirm the species, and photos of the head might allow for identification of the individual. Don’t have a camera? Trade contact information with one or more passengers who managed to capture the moment and put them in touch with the Network! We owe the photos of Snake Eyes’ 1998 visit to a couple of lucky tourists… and the presence of mind of their captain!