Whales don’t stay as long in Quebec’s St. Lawrence River, researchers say


Experts note that the number of whales seen in the St. Lawrence River in Quebec is low, even though the whale watching season has not ended.

Specialists believe that the habits of whales could change, according to the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM).

Tim Perrero, who is responsible for large whale censuses with the GREMM, said the whales’ stays in the estuary are “extremely short” compared to their usual stays. Some only stayed in the area for a week, while others only stayed for a few days, he said.

Such was the case with a humpback whale nicknamed Tic Tac Toe, which has only had a few short stays in the estuary this season, although it usually comes and stays long-term.

In addition, fin whales, normally faithful to the estuary, have still not been sighted this year. Perrero said there are usually at least four who spend about half the season in the area.

Samuel Turgeon, a Parks Canada ecologist, said his data also suggests the animals aren’t sticking around as long, choosing to explore elsewhere. The Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS) in northern Quebec has also found that the number of whales using Jacques-Cartier Strait has declined over the years.

Meanwhile, whale sightings are on the rise in other parts of the province. In the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, near Tadoussac, Quebec, the number of humpback and fin whales has exceeded seasonal averages since 2018.

Véronique Lesage, biologist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, specifies that even if the number of whales seems low in the estuary, it is not yet at a historic low compared to the last decade.

So far, seven fin whales have been identified this year, a similar number to levels seen between 2014 and 2017, she said. There were 37 humpback whale sightings, which exceeds previous years except for 2021.

In Gaspésie, about twenty humpback whales and a few fin whales were observed at the start of the season, but have rarely been seen since.

GREMM pointed out that it is normal to see fewer whales in July than in June, but it is unusual to see a complete absence of blue whales and only a few fin whales.

Experts who study the changing habits of whales suspect the problem may be related to their prey, as whales primarily visit the St. Lawrence River to feed.

Disturbances to the ecosystem, including warmer waters and less ice cover, could affect their food supply.


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