UPDATE June 10th 2020
The young female humpback whale in Montreal died on June 9th, 2020 on its way back towards the sea. The necropsy is being performed on June 10th by vets from the University of Montreal. A collision seems to have caused the whale’s death. We will keep you posted. Rest in peace, beautiful whale.
This post was written by our friend Laura Zeppetelli-Bédard from Montreal. More info on her at the bottom of the post.
A long way from home
Never before have whales ventured this far into the St-Lawrence River, about 400 km away from their natural habitat. This humpback whale calf is still swimming near the Jacques-Cartier Bridge area, fighting hard against the strong current that runs through the south side of the island of Montreal. Throughout the last 3 days, it has breached continuously for a duration of 30 min to 1:30 and always between 5 pm and 9 pm (EST).
On June 1st, the whale was swimming consistently around the same location (between Tour de l’horloge and Île St-Hélène) showing itself every 3-5 minutes to breathe. It started breaching around 7:30 pm until 9 pm, with an average of 45 spectacular jumps in front of Montreal’s skyline.
Why is the whale breaching?
A solid theory for this whale’s consistent breaching is that it is trying to communicate with other whales. Specialists believe that humpback whales slap their bodies and flukes on the water surface to create a strong noise wave that can travel long distances and possibly reach others of their kind. Humpback whales are famous for their spectacular jumps and scientists also believe that this behaviour can help with seduction and personal hygiene.
How can you observe this whale?
You can come to observe the whale from the Old Port of Montreal. If its location changes, we can get reliable information from other whale watchers. You can find updates from many sources such as Baleines en direct and twitter. I have spent a total of 2 days and 12 hours in the cold and rain just to see this spectacular event and the reward was most definitely worth the wait! Here is another tip: dress warm, bring an umbrella and be prepared to wait for as long as it takes.
Can we do anything to help it find its way?
According to specialists, the whale appears to be healthy enough for now. However, close up pictures have shown that its skin is slowly deteriorating due to a prolonged exposure to freshwater. Boaters and kayakers are strongly encouraged to keep a minimum distance of 100m from the animal. Specialists from GREMM (Groupe de recherche et d’éducation sur les mammifères marins) believe that human intervention at this point could cause more harm to the disoriented whale. Unfortunately, the St-Lawrence Gulf is almost 400 km away and unless the whale turns back on its own, we must let nature take its course…
Laura Zeppetelli-Bédard is a MS.c. cadidate and research assistant at Université du Québec à Montréal. She is currently participating in a research project aimed at monitoring contaminants in the tissues of northern belugas (Delphinapteurs leucas) as part of the Arctic Contaminants Program.