Minke whale still in Montreal, at risk of its own life

The minke whale spotted in Montreal over the weekend was still in Montreal waters on Tuesday, risking its life. According to the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Network, there will be no operation to evacuate it from the area.

Posted at 12:21 PM

Lila Dussault

Lila Dussault
The press

A glimmer of hope inhabited Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Network volunteers Tuesday morning when the minke whale was absent from the surface for several hours. We hoped he had finally decided to return to cover the 450 kilometers that separated him from his natural habitat, in the St. Lawrence Estuary.

When the bowed backs of the cetaceans – usually a source of wonder – showed up near Île Sainte-Hélène late in the morning, quite a disappointment was in store.

We don’t think this animal has a good prognosis [de survie]† It’s not a good idea for him to be there, to still be there.

Robert Michaud, Scientific Director of the Marine Mammal Research and Education Group (GREMM)

Minke whales generally live in salt water, in the estuary or Gulf of St. Lawrence or eventually in the Saguenay. The salinity affects the type of fish that whales eat and protects them from algal blooms, explains Michaud.

According to Mr. Michaud, the color of the minke whale can turn increasingly brown if a colony of algae settles on its back, as was the case with the humpback whale that came to Montreal in 2020. “Whales are not used to algae,” he makes clear. When this happens, it can create lesions and openings through which an infection can infiltrate. †

Collision risks

Another major risk for the minke whale: a collision with a ship on a much busier river than in its natural habitat. A notice to shipping has already been issued to inform pilots of the presence of the cetaceans. More than 2,000 ships a year pass through the Port of Montreal, the largest in Eastern Canada, according to Port data.

And collisions between ships and whales are far from rare in Quebec. At the point where in areas of the Gulf of St. Lawrence the speed of ships is limited to 10 knots. Specifically, the measure aims to protect the North Atlantic right whale, of which a total of 336 individuals remain, according to the Canadian government.

An ethical framework for intervention

Despite all these risks, the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Network has ruled that it will not intervene to help the minke whale return. “In this case it is a natural phenomenon that we are dealing with, there is no public safety problem and the species is not endangered,” explains Robert Michaud.


PHOTOGRAPH PATRICK SANFAÇON, THE PRESS

“There is currently no technique or expertise known in the world to move or repel a marine animal of this size over 400 km,” the Marine Mammal Research and Education Group says on its website.

These are the three criteria on which the Network bases its decision to intervene more vigorously.

“There is currently no technique or expertise known in the world to move or repel a marine animal of this size over 400km, the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals also states on its website. † The animal must choose to return. †

Robert Michaud also points out that the network carries out up to 700 emergency interventions each year for endangered marine species in Quebec. Two more are currently in progress. “Animals that die are there every day, it’s normal, it’s sometimes hard to accept for us humans, especially city dwellers,” admits the specialist.

Not all specialists agree on this question. “There we have an animal that has left its habitat and we have the extraordinary opportunity to track it,” said Daniel Martineau, a retired professor at the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine who specializes in marine mammals. According to him, a signal transmitter should be installed on the minke whale to track its movements, help prevent shipping and, if necessary, find its carcass more quickly. “We have a unique opportunity to learn more, he continues, and perhaps protect the animal. †

With the Canadian press

More information user manual

  • 1901
    Year Minke Whales ventured into Montreal. There was then no report for 120 years.

    source: The Canadian Press

    2018
    Year of the last report of the minke whale upstream from Québec. The cetaceans were in Lévis.

    source: Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM)

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