The mystery hangs over the situation of the humpback whale which has spent a week swimming in the Montreal region. The cetacean, which still seemed in good shape on Saturday evening, was last seen on Sunday in the Pointe-aux-Trembles area.
According to what the Quebec Emergency Network for Marine Mammals (RQUMM) clarified in an update of the situation published Monday morning, the last confirmed observation of this young humpback whale dates back to the end of the morning, Sunday .
The day before, Saturday evening, the whale was observed all day near the Jacques-Cartier Bridge, between Île Sainte-Hélène and Île Notre-Dame. She has been in this sector since Thursday, after spending no less than five days at the entrance to the Old Port, where she drew hundreds of curious people each evening to observe her dozens of spectacular jumps out of the water.
Did the humpback whale finally decide to descend the course of the St. Lawrence River to regain the salt water of the estuary, and therefore its natural habitat? Impossible to know for the moment. As of this writing, as of Monday, it had still not been reviewed.
“The humpback whale could remain several days in the Montreal sector before leaving by itself,” said the RQUMM on Monday morning. The organization therefore invites citizens to report any observation of this lost whale, but also to avoid disturbing it. Federal regulations prohibit any boat from approaching within 100 meters of a marine mammal. However, this provision does not apply to commercial vessels “in transit”, ie those that descend or ascend the St. Lawrence.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada spokesperson Antoine Rivierre said Monday noon that a team is currently patrolling the St. Lawrence River, downstream from Montreal, in an attempt to locate the whale. If found, notices will be issued to alert boaters and commercial vessels to the presence of the animal.
Director of communications at the Port of Montreal, Mélanie Nadeau said that the “control center” is participating in monitoring efforts, in collaboration with experts and the federal government. “The parties involved in the management of commercial maritime traffic therefore all take into account the presence of the whale so as not to injure it,” she said.
Researchers who have followed the situation over the past few days decided not to install a tag on this animal, because of the effects it could have on the whale. “There are significant risks for the animal if we use such a subcutaneous tag, since it does not have the antibodies to fight pathogens in freshwater. In addition, the animal is continuously monitored. Whatever its position, it will be reported to us quickly, ”recently told Duty Robert Michaud, Scientific Director of the Marine Mammal Research and Education Group.
If it decides to descend the St. Lawrence River and cover the 400 kilometers that separate it from its natural environment, this two to three year old whale will always be exposed to several risks for its survival. She could be hit by one of the many commercial ships that sail on the St. Lawrence. The cetacean could also find itself caught in a shallow area and run aground.
We do not know why this whale, which belongs to a species frequently observed in summer along the North Shore and off the Gaspé peninsula, decided to go up the course of the St. Lawrence River, to reach Montreal. It is also not known why she decided to stay in the very strong current of the river for more than a week, which can be very demanding for the animal.
However, we know that an extended stay in fresh water can have an impact on his metabolism and on his skin. She was showing signs of the effects of the trip on Saturday, according to photos taken in Montreal.
Full professor at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Montreal, Stéphane Lair, who analyzed the photos, believes that these marks appear to be due to the presence of microorganisms that can attach to the animal’s skin. “To my knowledge, this organism has never been associated with significant mortality or disease in cetaceans. “The epidermis is very thick in cetaceans, so these” infections “shouldn’t be a problem,” he said on Monday. According to him, these organisms should disappear very quickly, if the whale returns to salt water.
Researchers also do not know if this animal, which has remained in good condition and very dynamic during the last week, can feed in the fluvial portion of the St. Lawrence, since we do not find here its usual prey. Humpback whales, which migrate several thousand kilometers each year, are able to live without eating for a period of time.