The minke whale still in Montreal, risking its life

The minke whale seen in Montreal last weekend was still in Montreal waters on Tuesday, risking its life. No operation to evacuate it from the area will take place, according to the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Network.

Posted at 12:21 p.m.

Lila Dussault

Lila Dussault
The Press

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

When the bent back of the cetacean – generally a source of wonder – resurfaced near Île Sainte-Hélène at the end of the morning, it was rather disappointment that was on the agenda.

We do not think that 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 Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM)

Minke whales generally live in salt water, in the estuary or the Gulf of St. Lawrence or, ultimately, in the Saguenay. Salinity has an impact on 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 could become increasingly brown as 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 points out. When this happens, it can make lesions and openings, through which an infection can infiltrate. »

Risks of collision

Another major risk for the minke whale: colliding 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 cetacean. More than 2,000 ships pass through the Port of Montreal – the largest in Eastern Canada – per year, 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. The measure aims in particular to protect the North Atlantic right whale, of which there are a total of 336 specimens left in the world, according to the Government of Canada.

An ethical framework for intervention

Despite all these risks, the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Network has ruled that it will not intervene to try to help the minke whale to turn back. “In this case, it’s a natural phenomenon that we are dealing with, there is no public safety issue and the species is not in danger either,” explains Robert Michaud.


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

These are the three criteria on which the Network bases its decision to go ahead with a more forceful intervention.

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

Robert Michaud also points out that the Network carries out up to 700 emergency interventions for marine species at risk in Quebec each year. Two more are in progress right now. “Animals that die, there are every day, it’s normal, it’s sometimes difficult to accept for us humans, especially urbanites”, admits the specialist.

Not all specialists agree on this question. “There, we have an animal that has moved away from its habitat and we have the extraordinary opportunity to follow it,” says Daniel Martineau, retired professor from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Montreal, specializing in marine mammals. . In his opinion, a signaling transmitter should be installed on the minke whale to follow its movements, help prevent navigation and, if necessary, find its carcass more quickly. “We have a unique opportunity to learn more, he continues, and perhaps to protect the animal. »

With The Canadian Press

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  • 1901
    Year when minke whales ventured into Montreal. There was then no report for 120 years.

    source: The Canadian Press

    Year of the last minke whale report upstream of Québec. The cetacean was in Lévis.

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

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