For a week, it has attracted the crowds on the banks of montréal’s Saint-Laurent, mainly because of the dissemination of images of its spectacular jumps out of the water. But the humpback whale that had traveled hundreds of miles outside its natural habitat was eventually found dead on Tuesday. A highly publicized death, as opposed to the many cases of cetaceans killed each year in the estuary and gulf of St. Lawrence, due to human activity.
This humpback whale lost it was a case unheard of for scientists. Never before has an animal of this species had redirected the course of the river St. Lawrence. This young cetacean has ailleurssuscité an intense emotion in the Montreal region, where it has multiplied the behaviors demonstrative typical of his species.
During one week, hundreds of people are in a hurry every day, at the wharf of the Clock, or on the island of Sainte-Hélène and île Notre-Dame, in order to observe this whale visible very close to the shore. And many wondered if she would find one day the way to its summer habitat natural is located in the estuary of the St. Lawrence river, a distance of over 400 kilometres.
The answer came Tuesday morning. This humpback whale who is aged two or three years has been spotted drifting, dead, in the area of Varennes, enaval of Montreal.
Saturday night, just as during all the previous week, the animal seemed to be however in good physical shape, according to the marine mammal specialists who have been able to observe it. She had no apparent injury and was always very dynamic. But she had not been seen since Sunday morning.
Photo: Renaud Philippe The Duty
What has been the cause of his death ? To try to find out, it will be necessary to wait for the vet team of Dr. Stéphane Lair, a specialist in this type of operation, performs a necropsy (autopsy) of the animal. For this, the whale must be pulled up to the shore, before the examination of the carcass and the samples are taken.
This operation, normally a complex and delicate, and is further complicated in the context of the guidelines of the public Health to curbing the spread of the coronavirus. The necropsy should be performed on Wednesday.
Some hypotheses could explain this death, according to Richard Sears, founder of the research Station of the Mingan islands. It is possible that the whale had died of exhaustion, an infection or even after having been struck by one of the many commercial vessels which go up or down the St. Lawrence. But, whatever the cause, this whale lost was far from his natural environment. It has, therefore, put its survival at risk in moving away from the estuary, stresses Lyne Morissette, a biologist and specialist in marine mammals.
Although it has provoked strong reactions on Tuesday, what death is, after all, “anecdotal” compared to what happens in the estuary and gulf of St. Lawrence, insists Ms. Morissette.
“It’s good to marvel at the presence of a whale in Montreal, but, during this time, species are disappearing, while it does nothing to protect them adequately. There are 13 species of cetaceans that come in the St. Lawrence river, half of which are in danger. It’s a testament to the fragility of this ecosystem is an ecosystem in which several species are threatened because of our choices and our political decisions. “
“What is paradoxical is that humans can put a great deal of attention on an animal that comes in an urban environment, while onn”t give as much attention to the animals that are further away, by exempledans the gulf of St. Lawrence,” says Richard Sears, who is studying the great whale for more than 40 years.
It reminds us that cetaceans are killed each year in the St. Lawrence, mainly due to entanglement in fishing gear, or because they are struck by commercial vessels. Almost all of these cases are never publicized, if ever, reported. It was a few days, a fin whale was found dead on the shore of the island of Anticosti.
Last summer, a young blue whale, a species listed as ” endangered “, has been found dead in the gulf, even as the two young humpback whales. And from 2017, not less than 20 whales have died in the gulf, primarily due to entanglement or collisions with vessels. Not to mention the mortality constants of beluga whales, the only species of cetacean that resides full-time in the St. Lawrence river.
Photo: Renaud Philippe The Duty
To the general surprise, a plane came to pay tribute to the whale in the representative drawing in the sky.
Despite this, and despite the fact that whales report that each year several million dollars to the tourism industry in Quebec, we look forward to always better protect our marine environments, deplores Lyne Morissette. At the present time, even if the province is committed on the international scene to protect 10 % of the St. Lawrence by the end of 2020, barely 1.9 per cent is currently enjoying such status.
“It may be that the whale of Montreal will create a reflection on the risks we take on a daily basis with the St. Lawrence river. It is said that it wants to increase the number of protected areas, but we still can’t meet our commitments. And at the same time, it opens the door to projects of oil exploration activities which are conducted without environmental assessment rigorous, ” explained Lyne Morissette.
It is true that the Trudeau government decided to abolish the normal process of environmental assessment for all the exploratory drilling conducted to the east of Newfoundland. However, this area is a habitat for several cetacean species threatened, but also for the humpback whale, which is considered “not at risk” in Canada. Ottawa also authorized by 2018 the oil company BP to carry out drilling to the south of Nova Scotia, in an area frequented by cetaceans are endangered.
“For the moment, the whales die in the indifference. However, these animals are beautiful, they are charismatic and they arouse curiosity. They are also part of our identity. And if we live in a kind of mourning compared with the case of the humpback whale of Montreal, it is necessary to learn lessons from that, ” insists the specialist of marine mammals.
“Since it was amazed and that you have a desire to better protect the whales, we need to rethink our whole relationship with the ecosystem of the St. Lawrence river, where everything is interconnected. It is necessary to give to each species the best chance of survival. You can do it, but for this, it is necessary to take political decisions that are smart. “