For the second time in two years, a lost whale has swum all the way to Montreal, only to find itself in the exact same area of the St. Lawrence River. This time, it is a minke whale, a species frequently observed in the estuary. The animal, which is more than 450 kilometers from its natural habitat, could well be doomed.
This slender-bodied, dark-backed cetacean is a species of baleen whale that can measure about nine to ten meters in adulthood. The one that was first observed on Sunday, before being seen several times Monday throughout the day, would however likely be a juvenile individual.
It could therefore be an animal barely a few months old, measuring about three meters. The minke whale still measures more than 2.50 meters at birth, for a weight of around 450 kg. In adulthood, its weight can reach 10 tons.
This young minke whale, which arrives in Montreal barely two years after a young female humpback whale, spent all day Monday swimming between Île Sainte-Hélène and Île Notre-Dame, near the footbridge of the Cosmos, not far from the Biosphere. This is exactly where the humpback whale, sighted two years ago, was last seen before being found dead downstream in the seaway.
As the news of his presence was quickly spread on social networks, several curious people, but also representatives of several media, went there. Parc Jean-Drapeau security had to block access to the bridge at the end of the day, due to the presence of onlookers.
The comments collected on the spot essentially boiled down to questions: “What is this minke whale doing there? What can we do to save it? Can he go home alone? So many questions that remain unanswered, as in the case of the humpback whale observed in 2020.
far from home
As the animal had been swimming against a strong current for more than 24 hours, this situation could eventually exhaust it, according to the scientific director of the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals, Robert Michaud. “These are less powerful animals and have fewer reserves than humpback whales, like the one that visited Montreal in 2020.”
The animal, which came to breathe on the surface every three to five minutes, would however be in good physical condition, according to the first images analyzed by the scientists. They are not able to indicate whether this cetacean would be able to feed in the area. This whale, which normally lives in salt water, feeds mainly on capelin and herring, species that are not found in the waters of the river in the Montreal area.
For the moment, no intervention is planned to try to capture or scare this animal. Such an operation has never been attempted in Quebec for an animal of this size that swims freely.
To hope to return to its natural habitat, the St. Lawrence estuary, this minke whale would have to turn around and go down the seaway for more than 450 kilometres. The species is very frequently observed there in summer, particularly in the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park. The minke whale is not a species at risk, since it would have several hundred thousand individuals worldwide.
This is the second time in less than two years that a large cetacean has been found in the Montreal area. In May 2020, a 10-meter young female humpback whale had spent more than a week in the area. It had attracted hundreds of curious people every day, who came to observe it near the Quai de l’Horloge. In particular, they had been able to see her perform dozens of spectacular jumps out of the water.
This humpback whale, which had caused quite a stir in Montreal, had finally died following a “sudden event”, according to the report of the cetacean’s necropsy. Even if the trail of a collision with a ship in the St. Lawrence Seaway remains very plausible, the scientists who analyzed the case could not confirm this hypothesis.