A beluga whale on the loose

Un béluga en cavale

Photo: Levon Drover
The beluga whale rescued last year (top) has been sighted off the coast of Nova Scotia in stroll with a new companion.

For scientists, the news is at once exciting, surprising, and disappointing. The beluga of the St. Lawrence river to be repatriated to Québec by plane last summer, from a river of New Brunswick, where he was stuck, is alive and well. The only catch : he is swimming now in the area of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. This cetacean vagabond went away very far from its natural area of distribution.

A specialist in belugas of the St. Lawrence for more than 30 years, Robert Michaud admits that he was surprised to learn that this young beluga whale had survived the rescue operation is unprecedented, conducted in June 2017. But the joy was mingled with ” disappointment “, since the animal is now very far from the estuary of the St. Lawrence river.

“We have made considerable efforts to bring him back, but he left. It is, therefore, knows that he is in form, but it is really not in the right place, ” says-t it.

The efforts made last year to repatriate this cetacean are resident of Saint-Laurent were indeed unprecedented. It is important to know that the whale about three years had left the estuary of the St. Lawrence river to get to New Brunswick before heading up the course of the river Népisiguit, near Bathurst.

It is here that an entire team — supported by experts from the u.s. and canada — has been deployed to capture him, after several days spent in fresh water. The animal was then transported to the nearest airport, to be placed aboard a plane chartered for the occasion.

Under the supervision of veterinarians, it has been transported up to Rivière-du-Loup, before to be placed in a truck to reach the port of Cacouna. This is where the animal has been moved on board a boat of the Group for research and education on marine mammals (GREMM), which was released the same day.

Success

Like the beluga whales are social animals, it has also been released near a group of his species, to which he would have been able to join. “The objective was to verify if it was possible to intervene in order to repatriate a pet and reintegrate them in its population, and thus contribute to the recovery of this endangered species and which still shows signs of decline,” says Robert Michaud, scientific director of GREMM. “But some thought that the animal might die in a few hours. “

Today, it is known that all these efforts have helped to bring back an animal that would have been damned if he had remained in the river where it was stuck. “It was a success, since he could be repatriated, and reintegrated in its population and that it has survived. However, the predictions were not very good. It was not very strong when it was returned to the water. “

He has since regained all his force, while taking over the wide, this time in the company of other beluga of the St. Lawrence river. Both have been identified after having been photographed and biopsied in the area of Ingonish, in the eastern portion of Cape Breton.

A new fugue of which we do not know the specific reasons. “With the vets, and we wondered why it was returned far. We don’t know the answer, but we are tempted to believe that this is part of his behavior. It is a young beluga whale, and this behavior of wandering is a behavior typical of young people, ” said Mr. Michaud.

Cetacean sociable

The problem is that the animals that find themselves isolated, far from their natural range, have a tendency to “socialize” with pleasure boats, swimmers, or even the buoys maritime ports. “This is a serious problem. They are actively seeking interactions “, said Robert Michaud. The two beluga whales in Nova Scotia are no exception to the rule, to the point where he said “Népisiguit” now bears the scars of boat propellers. The canadian regulation prohibits them yet to approach them.

Un béluga en cavale

Photo: Levon Drover
Of a sociable nature, the whale wanderer lets himself be approached and photographed by divers.

Is this mean that this animal is doomed to never return to the St. Lawrence ? “Is it that he could one day come back as a supermâle, because of its force and of its experience ? We don’t know, but it has a lot to learn about how to save populations of endangered species. And the rescue of the beluga river Népisiguit was part of this learning. “

One thing is certain, it is not the first beluga to leave the estuary of the St. Lawrence river. In 2015, a trio even traveled to New Jersey. And sometimes, these are Arctic mammals that swim into the St. Lawrence. Since three years ago, a narwhal has elected domicile, swimming among groups of beluga whales.

Eight carcasses of beluga whales found in 2018

According to the most recent data, a total of eight carcasses of beluga whales have been found along the shores of the Saint Lawrence river this year. Of this number, five females and one very beluga whale, also called ” calf “. At least one female was well known to experts who study the species, or Athena, an animal known since 1989, but is likely to be born around 1975. According to the specialist of the species Robert Michaud, these numbers are ” not alarming “, but they are not ” reassuring “. The balance sheet of deaths could be even higher by the end of 2018. A total of 22 carcasses were found in 2017.

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