Here’s why the minke whale won’t be saved

While it is more than 450 km from its habitat, the life of the minke whale of Montreal is threatened, and it is unlikely that humans will help it find its way back. Yet, if he were a beluga, his fate might be different. Explanations.

The intrepid cetacean was spotted again around 11:15 a.m. Tuesday near the shore where the Piknic Électronik takes place in Parc Jean-Drapeau, after a morning without being observed.

If he wants to stay alive and return to where he came from, he will have to fend for himself, because the ethical framework of the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network, which brings together some fifteen governmental and non-governmental organizations, the excluded from human intervention.

A well-defined ethical framework

The coordinator of the network, Robert Michaud, explained to The Canadian Press that the group intervenes only in certain specific cases.

“We decided to intervene when there is a direct human cause, for example if a whale is caught in a fishing net,” said the scientist.

Interventions also take place when the situation endangers humans.

“For example, if there is a seal going up a highway, going to a schoolyard or an airstrip,” listed Robert Michaud, specifying that these are three examples that occurred in Quebec.

The network can also intervene if the species is endangered, which is not the case with the minke whale.

“We will then assess the possibility of carrying out an intervention, only if we can reasonably predict that the rescue of an individual can have a positive effect on the trajectory of this threatened species. Can saving an individual make a difference? »

Sometimes, even if the species is endangered, marine mammal specialists prefer not to intervene.

Robert Michaud recalled that around 2010, a beluga was observed in the Old Port of Montreal. The animal was not in good health, to the point where the specialists “leaned not to do an intervention”. In the end, they didn’t have to make a decision, because the beluga left the scene on its own.

Reckless cetaceans

In some cases, humans try to move marine mammals to help them, but the animals have other plans in mind.

One who has studied whales for 25 years said that one day a young beluga ventured into the Nippising River in New Brunswick, a dangerous place because of fishing boats.

Robert Michaud’s team captured him and airlifted him to Cacouna, near Rivière-du-Loup. But the reckless mammal returned to the very spot where the team had captured it. Robert Michaud believes that the young beluga ended up being killed by a boat propeller.

Capturing a whale: a risky expedition

If the Montreal whale were to be in danger due to the presence of humans or if it became entangled in fishing nets, the researcher Michaud’s team does not rule out attempting an intervention, but this possibility remains unlikely. likely.

“In some cases, we can try to repel or attract the animal with sounds. It’s been tried with a few different species in a few different situations, but it’s very, very inefficient,” explained the scientist, recounting the case of a humpback whale that had been exposed to “sounds loud enough to attempt to scare him away, but who had started to jump, then he ran aground”.

He mentioned that capturing this type of animal with nets “is not impossible”, that “there are different techniques”, but none is without risk.

“It has not been done with minke whales to my knowledge, it has been done with belugas, with narwhals, with dolphins, and with large whales in a few rare cases. »

McGill University doctoral student Anaïs Remili, who studies the diet of certain cetaceans, also believes that capturing a whale with nets is very complicated and dangerous.

“It’s super difficult because, in fact, you have to keep in mind that you don’t want to frighten the animal because a frightened animal can have a completely atypical behavior, which could lead to risks of collision with boats or the whale may run aground. So in general, it’s not recommended,” she explained, emphasizing the “tremendous stress” that this kind of expedition can cause.

“Do we want to play God? »

The coordinator of the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Network recalled that in 1901, two minke whales ventured into the Old Port of Montreal. For nearly 120 years, there were no other reports in Montreal until a humpback whale spent several days in plain sight in the same area before dying in June 2020.

“In all species, there are animals that, once in a while, venture out,” said Michaud, whose team has received 700 calls a year for 20 years for situations involving dead animals. or in danger.

“Do we want to play God and save all the animals that are in a bad way to clear their conscience? asked the researcher, adding that the death of the Montreal minke whale is “predictable”. “Animals that die, there are every day, it’s normal, it’s sometimes difficult to accept for us humans, especially urban people. »

He pointed out that if the Montreal whale dies, the network is ready to do a necropsy. “It’s a huge job. Then we are going to prepare, so here we are at this question in our process. »

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