The minke whale seen in Montreal this weekend is still in Montreal waters on Tuesday, risking its life. An operation to evacuate it from the area will not take place, according to the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Network.

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. It was 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 – usually a source of wonder – resurfaced near Île Sainte-Hélène at the end of the morning, it was rather disappointment that was on the agenda.

Minke whales generally live in salt water, in the St. Lawrence estuary, the Gulf or at the limit, in the Saguenay. Salinity impacts the type of fish whales eat, and protects them from algal blooms, says 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. »

Another major risk for the minke whale is 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 data from the Port of Montreal.

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 336 specimens left, in total, in the world, according to the Government of Canada.

Despite all these risks, the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Network has ruled that it will not intervene to try to help the minke whale turn back. “In this case, it is 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.

These are the three criteria on which the Network bases its decision to move forward 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 site. 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 experts agree on this issue. “There, we have an animal that has moved away from its habitat and we have the extraordinary opportunity to follow it,” says Daniel Martineau, a retired professor at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Montreal specializing in marine mammals. In his view, a signaling transmitter should be installed on the minke whale to follow its movements, help prevent shipping and, if necessary, find its carcass more quickly. “We have a unique opportunity to learn more, he continues, and perhaps to protect the animal. »


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